Birding on North Ronaldsay, Orkney

Over the last few years we have used the October break to get away for a bit of birding and hopefully find some new rarer migrant birds. That has taken us south to Norfolk the last few years (and outside the scope of this blog) but this year we headed North, took the ferry across the Pentland Firth and then a short flight to the remote and wild island of North Ronaldsay.

Before we had even arrived on North Ronaldsay we had seen a few nice birds. A sub-adult Gannet flying past the ferry as we approached the harbour at St Margaret’s Hope. Two Black Guillemots, transitioning to winter plumage, scurrying to get away from the boat taking off as we approached. A single Great Northern Diver, still majestic in its summer plumage, seen from the Churchill Barriers as we drove north.

Once we had arrived on North Ronaldsay and settled into our accommodation at the north end of the Island – we were staying in one of the lighthouse cottages – we went out for a walk. It was wild and very windy but, for the time-being, dry. There were lots of Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Lapwing feeding on the grassland and around the small pools around the lighthouse.

Our accommodation was close to a sea-watching hide and we spent some time looking out to sea with our scopes. Most common were the many Kittiwakes and Common Gulls, Fulmars and Gannets (see photos below).

We also saw some rarer birds including Manx Shearwaters, Arctic Skua, Great Northern and Red-Throated Divers. However the highlight for me was seeing several Sooty Shearwaters over the week as this was a life tick for me. We would see them in the distance, often scope only views, but clearly told by their dark colouring and fast, long shearing action. We even had one view of a possible Great Shearwater which have been remarkably numerous this year. After some internal wrestling, I didn’t count this so still need it for my life list.

When leaving the hide we were approached by some of the (im)famous North Ronaldsay rams. One of them actually charged us on several occasions and we had to quickly grab it by the horns to stop it inflicting an injury and hold on to it to walk away whilst it calmed down. From the safety of the hide we were able to watch them charging each other presumably to see who got mating rights with the females.

The next day we walked along the rocky shore were we saw large numbers of Turnstone, a Ringed Plover with a Bar-Tailed Godwit, a statuette Grey Heron, a Cormorant and Shag on the rocks and flying past, a couple of Rock Pipits and a Redshank (all photographed below).

We heard on the Bird Observatory‘s WhatsApp group that someone had seen three Arctic Redpolls (Horneman’s) fairly nearby. This would be a new bird for me so we set off in the direction where they had been seen. Long before we reached the area, a bird took off in front of us and my more experienced companion called out that this was indeed an Arctic Redpoll. Fortunately it landed on a wire and then fed in some nearby grasses enabling good views and a few photos. The Arctic Redpoll is larger than the common Lesser Redpoll and much lighter in colour with a frosty appearance (white fringes to feathers). For now this is a separate species but they may get lumped together in the near future.

The next day we heard that a Red-Necked Phalarope had been spotted on a small lochan at the south end of the island. We picked up some hire bikes and pedalling into the wind and rain we stopped and took shelter by the beach near the main ferry pier. Several Purple Sandpipers were feeding amongst the seaweed. This is a dumpy almost pigeon like wader with short legs and slightly down curved bill.

Slightly further down the beach several Sanderling were feeding. I love these birds scurrying in and out to feed between the waves. Much lighter than the Dunlin they appear an almost pure white underneath.

On occasion a particularly large wave would come in and all the birds would take off together. On one occasion I was so focused on taking photos that I forgot to watch my own feet and wet socks followed.

Turnstone, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper and Hooded Crow

As the rain took a break we headed over to the hide looking over Gretchen Lochan. Initially there was no sign of any Red-Necked Phalarope but soon enough I spotted the tiny wader floating on the waves. This was a life tick for me so I was delighted. It had a small needle like bill, slim body and distinctive eye patch. These birds breed on Shetland in Summer but this bird was in winter plumage. A great find.

After cycling back we got another message to say that a Little Stint had been seen at the lochan only a few hundred meters from our accommodation so I quickly cycled over and was afforded great views of this tiny but charismatic wader.

Looking further up the Lochan I also spotted some new ducks. We had already seen Mallards, Teal, Wigeon and Gadwall on the island. But here were also were Pintail and Shoveler with their giant (shovel like) bills.

I also spotted a couple of Whooper Swans at the far side of the Lochan which were feeding before taking off and heading south.

Throughout the week we were seeing lots of Snipe at times dozens would take off in front of you and tower away. Most were the Common Snipe which is larger (than Jack Snipe), and takes off from further away. We did however see one Jack Snipe which we had to practically stand on for it to flush. We would see Common Snipe all over the island, by the water and if we looked carefully hunkered down in wet grass (both photographed below).

When the news came out that the mega vagrant Great Snipe had been spotted nearby we again jumped on our bikes. This was by far the biggest find of the week and we were keen to get a view ourselves. We arrived to find every birder on the island (20-30 in total) had descended to the same location and within half an hour we were rewarded with good views as the bird took off and flew to a nearby scrub. We actually found the same bird the following day and had further views. I didn’t get a good photo and it was enough to add this bird to my life list and indeed the only life tick for the week for my more experienced friend.

Before finding the Great Snipe a second time we also saw a fairly late Northern Wheatear posing in the field

We were never far from Rabbits on the island and had to be careful not to turn an ankle over in their holes when constantly scanning for birds.

Greylags Geese were also near ubiquitous but we did also see a small flock of Barnacle Geese coming in off the sea. And also two Pink Footed Geese grazing in a field (both photographed below).

The bird of the week for me in many ways however was the Snow Bunting. We saw a few of these on the first day but before long we were noticing them everywhere. This is a bird you can see on the high Cairngorms in summer (where it breeds) but also along the coasts during winter and migration season. I have seen it in both but never in the numbers we saw this week. Here was a Snow Bunting peaking out from behind a wall, or posing on top of another feeding around the lichen, or here was a flock of 80-90 lifting from behind a wall and drifting across the field like its own slow moving snow flurry.

On another occasion, taking a coffee and cake from the Bird Observatory, we spotted a female Hen Harrier told by its white ringed tail (white rump). I rushed outside to fire off a few photos and then the quartering bird put up a flock of Snow Buntings.

We did see a few marine mammals from the island. Sadly we just missed a small pod of Orcas but we did see Risso’s Dolphins on a couple of occasions, albeit too distant to photograph. This is the most common dolphin this far north. Closer were the many Grey Seals both in the water and hauled out on the rocks (see photos below).

Another characteristic bird we saw in reasonable numbers throughout the week was the Brambling, pictured here atop a wall.

Towards the end of our week however the numbers appeared to build significantly and again from the observatory we saw a flock of about 250 birds, mostly Linnets but with about 20 or so Brambling among them. The flock would take off and fly around in a large murmuration before landing on the crop in the field and feeding. Then they would lift again and settle on the nearby fence.

When such a large flock scatters it is worth looking around for a raptor and it was one of these occurrences which led us to spot Britain’s smallest bird of prey, the Merlin. This bird is a small falcon which moves very fast and can take birds in flight. These are the first photos I have ever taken of a Merlin so I was pleased to get them.

A few other year ticks for me this week were Ruff, Glaucous Gull, Grey Phalarope, and Pied Flycatcher. But my last major bird of the week was also a life tick for me. A Turtle Dove had been seen a couple of times on the Island but I had not been fortunate enough to find it. Again over Coffee in the Observatory, trying to get out of the wind and rain, I saw a small dove take off from the field with the characteristic white tail pattern. I called it to those who were with me and then headed out to get a quick (but very poor and distant) photo of it sat looking away from me on the wall.

In many ways North Ronaldsay in October is a fairly hard-core birding location. The accommodation options are limited if you cannot get into the Observatory (it was full when we tried to book) and our cottage didn’t have working heating! The weather is windy (almost always), and wet (much of the time). But it was rewarding to see some rare birds and also some rare-ish birds in quite good numbers. By the end of the week I had seen 81 species of birds and added 5 life ticks (Arctic Redpoll, Sooty Shearwater, Red-Necked Phalarope, Great Snipe and Turtle Dove) and a further 9 year ticks to my tally.

Full list of sightings on eBird here.


Argaty Red Kites

This week I visited Argaty Red Kites. Argaty Farm is close to one of the first Red Kite re-introduction sites in Scotland and they have really adopted the kites along with wildlife as a whole. They run daily feeds for the birds most afternoons which is a great opportunity to see wild birds close up.

The Bowser Family who run Argaty are big champions for rewilding and living in harmony with nature. You can learn more about their journey and that of the Red Kites by checking out Tom Bowser’s book A Sky Full of Kites.

The reason for my trip was to try out my brand new camera, the Canon R5. This camera is a big step up on my previous camera (A 2014 Canon 7d Mark ii) so I was desperate to get out and put it through its paces. I was especially looking forward to photographing birds in flight which is a difficult aspect of wildlife photography. The R5’s autofocus, including animal and eye tracking and fast burst rate should make it a lot easier to capture a sharp photo and the full frame sensor and 45 megapixels would help with image quality and after event cropping.

We arrived early and my friend and I took our place in the Photography Hide. Whilst we waited for the food to be put out we photographed a family of Tree Sparrows which were taking seed from a nearby feeder. The two chicks kept begging for food whilst the parents kept getting food from the feeder and bringing it back for them.

Tree Sparrows

Anticipating a feed, the Kites started to gather, soaring above the field. I fired off a few shots (well a few hundred – with 12-20 frames per second it doesn’t take long). It was a real joy using the new camera and so easy to focus on the birds compared to what I was used to.

Once our host had put out some food it didn’t take long for the Kites to come closer. This made for better shots as they had trees behind them.

And then they were stooping down, grabbing some food and flying off with it. They didn’t land as such, a fly-by-takeaway. Occasionally other birds, Crows, Magpies and Jackdaws joined in too, always cautious around the larger Kites.

All in all we watched the Kites for about an hour, steadily coming into feed. On a couple of occasions they displayed well, turning to lock talons. This offered spectacular action shots.

Not long after the actioned died down and the birds headed off through the trees.

Overall, it was great to see the Red Kites, our host Lynn was very welcoming and I was delighted with how the new camera performed. If you want to get up close to nature and see these wonderful bird of prey close up, I recommend a trip, but do book in advance, this is a popular day out.


The River Devon in February

So my “habitat-focus” for this month is the River Devon. At just over 30 miles in length this is a fairly short river starting in the Ochils above Menstrie and Alva and entering the Forth about 5 miles away as the crow flies at Cambus. River’s are a rich habitat that attract a different range of wildlife and we are lucky in Menstrie to have this river pass just behind the village.

In February I set my camera trap up by the river and took a few walks to see what was about. My own camera got flooded by the rising water following rain and snow melt. Amazingly I was able to dry it out and it still works! But I am grateful to fellow Menstrie resident Barry MacPherson for his extra footage this month.

Wildlife filmed during February

I took a walk early in February one sunny morning before work and was pleased to see many of the classic river dwellers. First up was the Grey Heron in the SUDS pond.

Grey Heron

Continuing to the river itself and I see three Mallards flyover and land in the river. Further upstream I see some Goosanders too (too females and a male). I get a distant image of this bird.

Some Mute Swans are around the cycle path bridge most days and sometimes they gather in significant numbers – last year I counted 120. Just two today.

Next up are two classic river dwellers that are among my favourites. First the Grey Wagtail is often seen around here with its ridiculously long tail and bobbing motion. This is quite a confiding bird and allows some good photos. It is more interested in picking up insects around the rocky island in the middle

It is then joined by one of my favourite birds the Dipper. I often spot the bold white bib in the shadows or just the movement as it habitually bobs up and down or dives in and out of the water preferring to find its food at the bottom of rivers and streams. The combination of black, white and chocolate brown make this an unmistakable and striking bird. It is well named too.

The Yellowhammers have mostly been absent around the village over the winter preferring to go down to Tullibody Inch where I counted 120 last winter roosting together by a cereal crop field. But on this walk I see my first this far up stream of the year. A striking male cheeping from the top of a large Rosehip.

Heading back to the Menstrie side of the river I see a small group of Greylag Geese that have been hanging around over the winter. I count 7. Told from the truly wild Pink Footed Geese by bright their yellow/orange bill, farmyard honk and tendency to form smaller flocks these birds are often seen here all year round.

As I head back to Menstrie the hedgerow has one last treat for me. I hear the chirping of sparrows and am pleased to see that there are several Tree Sparrows around. The country cousin of the much more common House Sparrow distinguished by their solid brown cap.

Tree Sparrow

Towards the end of the month I took another walk one Sunday afternoon and saw many of the same birds but also some new species. It was a lovely spring day with a gorgeous blue sky which falls you into thinking winter may be passed for another year. On this time of year I start to look forward to migrants, it won’t be long before Sand Martins returning from Africa fly up this river. Or a Common Sandpiper takes its place on the bank here. Perhaps I might see a Wheatear flying through on its way up to the hillside above the village.

Not a true migrant but I am pleased to see a lovely Male Stonechat clinking to a read. I don’t often see Stonechat here more frequently by the coast in winter or up Menstrie Glen in the summer where they breed. I wonder if this has overwintered here or is just passing through.

Another fresh bird for this walk is a Reed Bunting. This is a male but it hasn’t yet got its full and striking breading plumage but there are hints of it.

I accidentally disturb a Heron which lifts up and flies a couple of hundred meters downstream before landing in a field on the opposite bank.

A Lesser Black-Backed Gull cruises by. A few overwinter here but most travel further south even to the continent. This is the first I have seen in Clacks this year.

A classic winter sight and sound is Geese flying over. On this walk I see some small flocks of Greylags, and one is close by for good photos of a fine pair. Here you can see the strong orange beak which tells them apart from Pink Feet.

Far more enjoyable for me is having hundreds of Pink Footed Geese fly over. This is a winter only sight as these birds will soon be heading north to Iceland to breed. Here you can see the smaller less colourful bill and dark heads which identifies these as Pink-Footed Geese.

I encourage you to watch the video at the top of this post to see and hear the geese further. See you next month for another habitat focus.


A drive along the Lothian Coast

We recently took a drive along the Lothian coast from Musselburgh to Gullane. There are several good spots to stop and look out to sea and along the coast itself.

At Port Seton, a large flock on Ringed Plover flew down the coast but didn’t stop.

Ringed Plover

But then an even larger flock of Golden Plover was hard to miss as their golden backs caught the afternoon sun.

Golden Plover in flight

We watched them swirling for several minutes before they chose a patch of nearby rocks to settle on.

Golden Plover coming into land

Over time other smaller flocks kept coming in to join them and before long there were three to four hundred basking in the sun.

These are beautiful birds. I vividly remember seeing them in full breading plumage in Iceland and they looked amazing with their black, white and gold colours. A few of the birds here had hints of the black bellies remaining.

Golden Plover in Breeding Plumage (Iceland).

A rather tatty Pied Wagtail approached us on the beach.

Pied Wagtail

A migrating Wheatear had obviously stopped for a few days and it flew past landing by a rock and was soon flushed out an indignant (likely resident) Rock Pipit. The Pipit seemed quite clear that this was its patch of sand and seaweed and the Wheatear wasn’t welcome. The Wheatear would fly away only for the Pipit to follow, perhaps the Wheatear would have to carry on to Africa before it would have peace?

Rock Pipit and Wheatear

For some time I had noticed a white bird picking through the tide line along the beach and I had assumed it was just a gull. Something about its’ movements wasn’t quite right and I looked at it through my binoculars.

It took me a while to work out what this bird was as I had never seen anything like it before. Once I ignored the fact that this bird was all white/off-white it was obvious from its shape and structure and indeed its behaviour that it was a Bar-Tailed Godwit. I named it a Bar-Tailed ‘Odwit’ as Godwits were not meant to be white! This was an example of leucism, a genetic condition a bit like albinism.

This experience really highlights the dangers of relying on colours and plumage in identifying birds. Most people look for colour and plumage pattern to identify birds but it is much more reliable to go for size, shape (bill, legs especially), behaviour, song and calls, and habitat first. Relying on colour often leads to whole classes of birds (waders, warblers and gulls for example) becoming almost impossible to identify. Most waders are brownish and gulls are whitish so how to tell one from the other? And Warblers are the classic LBJ (little brown job) so identification becomes close to impossible. However, start to rely on size, shape, behaviour, song and calls and you will begin to see these birds aren’t that similar at all, and you can start learning the differences.

Looking back to the Golden Plovers I saw some other birds had joined them, a small group of Knot. This often happens, when large numbers of birds gather, others join them – in nature there is safety in numbers and that is no truer than when at the coast.

As I walked further along the beach I notices a couple of birds. One was a Dunlin and the other a Ringed Plover. The Ringed Plover with bright orange legs, smooth brown back and black/white face. The Dunlin, a first winter bird with a combination of scalloped juvenile plumage and greyer plainer adult winter plumage.

Ring Plover (L) and 1st Winter Dunlin

We returned to the car and carried on up the coast towards Gullane stopping again at Aberlady Bay. The tide was out and the first thing we noticed were the Geese. Hundreds of Pink-Feet and Greylags feeding on the mud and bathing in the river.

Pink Feet (mostly)

Pink-Footed Geese are clearly wild geese migrating here for the winter from Iceland. Greylags are less clear, with a strong population of resident so-called “plastic” geese (ie not of wild origins) being supplemented by additional winter migrants.

A Black-headed Gull allowed close views from the bridge. Only the black spot behind the eye now, in its winter plumage rather than the full black (well brown) cap after which it is named.

Several Little Egrets hunted the river bed. This bird would have been a rarity a couple of decades ago but now, thanks to climate change, they are resident in the UK all year and increasingly common in Scotland. Egrets are from the same family as Herons but are all or mostly white. The Little Egret can be told from the rarer Great White Egret by its smaller size and dark black beak and legs. The even rarer Cattle Egret is still unusual in Scotland and has a yellow bill and rather different behaviours. All are very elegant birds.


Birdwatching at Musselburgh Lagoons

As Autumn is kicking in I decided to take a trip out to Musselburgh in the hope of adding a few birds to my year list. The east coast obviously attracts a range of seabirds we don’t get in Clackmannanshire and can also have migrants travelling through. A Ruff, Little Stint or Curlew Sandpiper would be a good target for the day, or a rarer Scoter. A rare White-Winged Scoter has been seen in past years and a Surf Scoter has been seen in just the last few weeks so I am hopeful.

Our first stop was the mouth of the River Esk. Straight up we are surprised to see a Red-Throated Diver in the river itself close to where we parked the car. It was diving for fish and seemed healthy enough. We watched it for a few minutes and captured a few good photos.

Also swimming around in the river were a couple of Common Guillemots, nice to see the birds so close but not really a healthy sign for this seabird to be on freshwater. This is a widely reported problem along the East Coast of Scotland as I mentioned in my previous post.

Pair of Guillemots

We walked towards the seawall and picked up a Common Redshank feeding on the near shore.

Common Redshank

A few swans were feeding in the river itself, I checked for a Whooper which might be passing through but they were all the more common resident Mute Swans. Still a lovely bird in good light.

Mute Swan

A Lesser-Black Backed Gull flew past with a fairly mean look, whilst a winter plumage Black-Headed Gull fed in the shallows its red legs and bill standing out brightly.

There were lots of Curlew feeding behind the receding tide and some offered close views to fire off a few photos. With their impossibly long curling beak, and large size these birds are quickly marked out from most other waders. For beginners it is a good idea to learn your Curlews and Redshanks early on as they can act as a useful reference point for other waders.

A Reed Bunting lands for a drink in a nearby puddle.

Reed Bunting

Several Greylag Geese were relaxing on the far shore and they got up and moved into the river. Before long the river was alive with Greylags honking their farmyard honk. I looked through for Pink-Footed Geese but couldn’t see any.

Just then as if on order I heard Pink-Footed Geese flying over, high up, possibly just arriving from Iceland – I like to think so. These birds are common in the fields around where I live in Clackmannanshire each winter and I look forward to their imminent return. Their V-shaped flock is a welcome sign of Autumn and the passing of yet another season.

Pink Footed Geese arriving from Iceland

Looking out on the rocks I see the white flash of the rump of a Wheatear. These birds have been breeding inland but are now starting migration and fuelling up on the coast. I follow the bird until it lands and see a Rock Pipit trying to see it off the two facing off from separate rocks. This bird is a much drabber pipit with olive green tones almost disappearing into the rock it is standing on,

A frequent sound I have started to tune in to this summer is the “Eric Eric” of the Sandwich Tern and I hear it now. I see several birds offshore plunge diving for fish. The Sandwich Tern is quite a bit larger than its Common or Arctic cousins and has a bold black half cap almost like an eye-stripe. This is the nature of migration you gain the Geese but loose the Terns. This bird will soon be leaving for West Africa. I enjoy it’s acrobatics now as it may be the last I see this year.

We are now out on the seawall and I set up the scope. I am delighted to see a distant view of a Red-Necked Grebe my first year tick of the day as well as some Great-Crested Grebes. There are also lots of Shags flying backwards and forwards along with Eider Ducks and Gannets from Bass Rock feeding. They are too far to photograph but a small group of half a dozen Goosanders are much closer. These are sawbills and they keep diving for small fish. You have to love the punk hair-doo.


I subscribe to Bird Guides for the latest bird alerts and someone has reported a Surf Scoter off the seawall earlier today. Scoters are small black sea-ducks and most of the Scoters here are Velvet Scoters with a white tick around the eye. The Surf Scoter is much rarer and has a larger bill and white patch behind the head. We find someone with a scope who is on the bird and this affords good but distant views. Another year tick which is good progress for the day.

We leave the coast and walk inland briefly to the hides overlooking Musselburgh Lagoons. The first bird I see is a lovely Grey Heron resting on the shore looking over at a hundred or so Lapwings in the lagoon behind it.

Grey Heron with Lapwings behind

I notice several busy waders feeding around the water’s edge and after checking the features I am delighted to add Ruff to my year list. I count 11 in total which is a record for me. They offer up some great photos. This bird is what is called a passage migrant. They are not here to breed or for the winter, rather they are travelling from their breeding grounds in the north to their winter home in the south. There is a short period to catch them as they are just travelling through.

I notice a bobbing motion in the foreground and see a Common Snipe feeding. The long golden stripes down the back and over the head are diagnostic. These birds are often quite hard to see and rarely offer a good photo. Don’t mind if I do.

I can see a distant covey of Grey Partridge but not really close enough to photograph. I suspect I might be able to see them better from the other hide. We walk around and sure enough they are much closer. There are seven altogether in this family group and they are busy feeding. This partridge is in decline. compared to the introduced Red-Legged Partridge, so it is lovely to see them close up. A Pied Wagtail flies in behind them.

A small flock of Goldfinch fly overhead and land in the nearby Teasels


We walk back to the car by the seawall again adding a couple of Brent Geese to my year list

Brent Geese

A good day which takes me to 180 bird species for the year, on track for 200 hopefully. Musselburgh Esk Mouth and Lagoons is a worthy birdwatching location especially rewarding if you don’t live on the coast.


Boat trip to Bass Rock

Bass Rock is the world’s largest Northern Gannet colony. I have been wanting to visit it for ages and finally made it at the weekend.

We booked on a fast RIB boat trip organised by the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick. This “Three Island Seafari” trip also visited the Lamb and Craigleith but it was quite late in the season to see much birdlife on these Islands but Bass Rock itself did not disappoint.

Since the boat we were on was a RIB and it was quite windy we did get very wet but I guess that just made it a bit of an adventure. But I did have to work hard to keep my camera equipment and binoculars dry. Slower, more sedate boats are available.

Before reaching Bass Rock we saw some Common Guillemots and a Razorbill. There are a lot of Guillemots and Razorbills close to west coast shore at the moment and in rivers. Over the last few weeks I have seen Guillemots in the Forth around Stirling, for example. Whilst the cause is not yet fully understood it is not natural, healthy behaviour and sadly many dead birds have been found too.

Grey Seal

On a happier note we got a nice close-up view of a Grey Seal around Craigleith. Along with a few Shags and Cormorants drying their wings.

Shag in classic pose

As we approached Bass Rock the air started to fill with Gannets, our largest native seabird. Quite a sight.

We also came across several juvenile Gannets in the water, not yet able to fly. Juvenile Gannets have the same basic shape as the adults but their plumage is completely different which means many people don’t realise they are Gannets at all. After a life of being cared for by two parents they leave the nest weighing more than their target weight and are unable to fly as a result. It will be a few weeks before they master this skill.

Juvenile Gannet

Once at Bass Rock itself we saw the cliffs covered in Gannets by the thousand – a truly spectacular sight, with all the accompanying sounds and smells.

We were able to pick out more Gannet chicks (known as guga’s) some still with their downy covering others moulting this off. Some were practicing their flying skills.

As we continued around the island every available nest site was occupied with thousands of Gannets. At the peak of the season Bass Rock is home to over 150,000 Gannets, over half of the European total!

Gannets are actually highly territorial birds on the nest, albeit protecting a very small area. If a guga (Gannet chick) falls from the nest outside the territory the parents will no longer recognise it as offspring and therefore they will no longer care for it and it will perish. There is a clear line between their territory and that of their neighbour and if that line is crossed, warnings will be given and if they are ignored a fight will erupt. Mostly the fighting Gannets will fall into the water to continue the fight. These fights are often to the death as a Gannet beak is a formidable weapon. We saw one dead gannet being eaten by a Greater Black-Backed Gull following such a fight. We also interrupted a dramatic fight in progress.

As our boat approach the Gannets stopped fighting each other to get away from us and I felt we effectively broke up the contest. This was probably good news for the weaker bird.

As we left the Island we again saw countless Gannets leaving the rock going out to the fishing grounds across the North Sea.

A magnificent bird and great experience. Recommend a visit.


Bottlenose Dolphins at Chanonry Point

I have been meaning to visit Chanonry Point, to see the Dolphins that are famous for coming really close to shore, for several years. But for one reason or another I have never made it before last week. A week in a camper van with my wife in late July provided a fairly open opportunity and it was one of the first things we slotted into our plans.

We aimed to arrive at the end of Chanonry Point about an hour after low tide. The Bottlenose Dolphins are known to chase fish into the bay and use the combination of the long spit of land and the tide currents to pin the fish. A rising tide starting about an hour after low-tide is the ideal time. A healthy population of about 200 Bottlenose Dolphins live in and around the Moray Firth so sightings are quite regular.

We took the walk from the centre of Fortrose rather than drive out and park in the pay and display carpark at the end. Chanonry Point has become very popular in recent years and parking can be a problem especially for a camper van so allowing time to walk out removes another potential issue.

I estimate there were about 100 people gathered hoping the dolphins would show when we arrived. It certainly wasn’t quiet but nor was it overcrowded as the split of shingle was long enough for us to spread out. After about 30 minutes or so some people started to drift away.

I took some time to photograph the Common Terns flying past and Herring Gull loafing nearby.

About an hour and 45 minutes after low tide I was delighted to see a distant fin break the water betraying an approaching dolphin. The crowd murmured with excitement and subconsciously moved down to the shore.

Before long, we were having excellent views of a mother and calf less than 10 meters away. Adult Bottlenose Dolphins grow up to 4 meters long and are mostly dark in colour, the calves are shorter and much lighter in colour. These two dolphins stayed close to the shore where the rising tide met the current of the river for the next hour or so.

Before long some other dolphins joined the show further out but moving much faster with more energy. These were chasing fish, mostly Salmon, which provided a great meal for the effort. As well as catching and eating the Salmon they would also appear to play with the fish, throwing them into the air and catching them. Sometimes this is to train younger dolphins how to hunt but sometimes it appears to be just for fun. I guess Dolphins aren’t taught not to play with their food.

The show continued for about 2 hours and at one point a particularly active dolphin kept jumping out of the water. This was a good opportunity to practice my photography. You had to guess where the Dolphin would appear and be ready to take a burst of photos as soon as it reappeared. I was positioned low down on the shore, knelt down, to try and get a more interesting background, risking getting wet knees from the incoming tide. After taking a lot of photos of disappearing tail flukes I captured this shot which I was fairly happy with.

All in all I would recommend a trip to Chanonry Point if you are around the Black Isle. Wildlife encounters are often distant and brief and this was certainly special in being close up and sustained for a couple of hours. I think it would be a great place to go for a picnic with children and hope for the best.

Below is a brief video showing how close the Dolphins come to the shore. I hope you are able to enjoy the Moray Firth Dolphins and join the watching crowd soon.


Wildlife watching on Mull

At the end of June/start of July we had a week on Mull and our main focus for the week was wildlife watching as most our holidays are these days. This post shares three great locations where we explored the wildlife of Mull.

Grass Point

We had a couple of hours after getting off the ferry and before getting access to our cottage so we drove down the road to Grass Point (just south of Loch Don). This is a great habitat for Hen Harrier and Short Eared Owl. Sure enough within 30 minutes of leaving the boat we saw a Ringtail. This is the name used for female-type Hen Harrier based on the white band on the tail. I say female type rather than just female as the immature males look similar too.

Hen Harrier

We carried on down to the view point at Grass Point itself and walked to the top of the cliffs to view the sea. We saw several grey seals in the sea along with a distant view of an otter hunting, it eventually came to the shore and disappeared up a river bank.

We also saw several Rock Doves on the cliffs. These are genuine wild birds on Mull rather than the common feral pigeons found nearly everywhere on the mainland.

As we walked back to the car we heard and saw Whinchat, Chaffinch and Stonechat. A confiding male Stonechat perched on a foxglove which bent over under its weight.

Male Stonechat on Foxglove

We walked along the road to the end and had a look around the small bay. A Lesser Redpoll landed on the roof of a nearby house, it flew before I could catch a photo but nice to see the red forehead.

A Willow Warbler sang from the nearby scrub. I find Willow Warbler impossible to tell from Chiffchaff by sight but the song is very different, sounding a bit like a Chaffinch without the flourish at the end.

Willow Warbler song
Willow Warbler

Loch Scridain

The next day we headed over Glen More, a lovely road, to Loch Scridain. Descending from the highpoint we saw a couple of cars parked with tripods with scopes out looking at the cliffs above. A brief chat later and we had our own scope on a couple of resting Golden Eagles. After about 20 minutes one took off disturbed by a Kestrel and gave a brief view. As the photo below shows, an Eagle has much longer wings and primary feathers than a Buzzard, oh and a Golden Eagle hardly ever flaps it wings by comparison to a Buzzard. You can tell this is a Goldie (not White-Tail) from the smaller head and narrower wings compared to the White-Tail’s thicker barn door profile.

Golden Eagle

Carrying on down the B8035 turnoff north of the loch we soon found ourselves in excellent meadow habitat so we stopped and scanned for birds. We very quickly saw a quartering Short-Eared Owl followed by two Hen Harriers which was excellent. It must be a good vole year. A Skylark popped up near the car allowing close views.


We also saw a Whinchat resting on a distant fence.


We continued to drive along the coast scanning for Otters and were soon rewarded by a mother and two cubs. These are wonderful animals and always a special encounter. They have great smell but less good eyesight so staying down wind we watched them for 10-15 minutes from the road side.

Returning to the main road (A849) to Pennyghael we scanned the marshy area again for Short-Eared Owls or Harriers. None this time but a few Redshank, Curlew and Lapwings put in a show. Driving along with the windows open (always drive with the windows open if you can!) we heard a Buzzard calling from a stand of trees. Investigation soon revealed a nest which was actually visible from the road itself although you would probably miss it driving.

Buzzard on nest (taken from road)

Further down the road we looked out to a small island with some Common Seals hauled out. Taking time to watch we noticed that one was actually in the process of giving birth. We watched for about 20 minutes but after this, the mother to be went into the water (opting for a water birth perhaps).

Common Seal in labour


Another great day out we headed down to Lochbuie. Just after leaving the A849 at Strathcoil we saw a few impressive Red Deer Stags.

Red Deer Stag

A relaxed drive along Loch Spelve revealed close up views of a few birds we had been seeing all week. Most of Mull’s coast seems to have a resident Grey Heron and it is fun to watch these birds feed and nice to practice photographing them in flight, because they are so huge they are an easy target to practice on.

The main geese on the Island are Greylags and we frequently saw families together. Geese with young will avoid Otters who will occasionally take a gosling so having them close to the shore is a clear indication not to bother looking for Otters (and the reverse is true, if you see them heading away form the shore and you are not the cause might be worth a quick scan).

Whilst here we also glimpsed some Canada Geese which were much less common on Mull than the Greylags.

Canada geese

Along with Oystercatchers the other birds we found at almost every stretch of coast were the noisy Common Sandpipers. These migrants from Africa breed on our coasts and rivers in the summer. They are vocal birds when alarmed, vocal birds when taking off, the pair near our cottage were vocal birds whenever I was trying to sleep.

Common Sandpiper

We drove out the far side of Loch Spelve and were a bit surprised to see a Peacock in the middle of the road near the end. It acted as if it owned the road, calling loudly whilst displaying its magnificent tail feathers.

Getting back to wildlife, we continued down to Lochbuie stopping for some lunch. We had a lovely walk along the coast to the beautiful beach beyond Moy Castle.

Social distancing in action on Mull

Nearby rocky crags had lovely wildflowers growing out of the cracks. Not my specialty but I think this is English Stonecrop.

English Stonecrop

Another distinctive flower of Mull was the Iris meadows found around most river mouths. Corncrake are occasionally heard from this habitat but not by us this week.


Goldfinch and Lesser Redpolls flew around the nearby field and briefly landed on the nearby fence.

On our return to the main road after leaving the shored of Loch Spelve the road rises to a small pass. It was early afternoon now and the sun was beating down hard and the thermals were getting established. Whilst driving we saw a brief raptor pass behind some trees. We pulled over and before long were watching a Golden Eagle along with 9 Buzzards soaring in the thermals. The Golden Eagle was having a hard time being mobbed and had actually lost one of its tail feathers.

Golden Eagle with missing tail feather

Whilst on Mull we also enjoyed a fantastic boat trip whale watching from Tobermory and also a day photographing Golden Eagles and other birds of prey.


Photographing Golden Eagles on Mull

For the last few years I have tried to set myself a wildlife photography objective for each holiday we go on. It is just enough to give me a focus and more often than not I am able to achieve the objective. On past holidays I have targeted Pine Martin, Otter, White Tailed Eagle and Short-Eared Owl for example. When we went to Mull – Eagle Island – a couple of weeks back I set myself the goal of photographing Golden Eagle, a bird which I have often seen but rarely within close photographical range.

I gave my chances of success a big boost by booking a day with Philip Price of Loch Visions Wildlife Photography. I had a positive impression of Loch Visions before the day because Philip had kindly moved my booking not once but twice because of Covid disruption.

After meeting at the ferry (I was already on the Island but Philip wasn’t) we drove to a favoured location of Philip’s which required a decent drive, some of which was off road. We then set off on a walk for about 20 minutes burdened down not just with our photography gear and lunch but also two large beanbags to sit on that Philip had brought with him – no slumming it here. The weather at this stage was not very promising as it was thick cloud with visibility restricted to about 30 meters.

As we climbed onto our target ridge Philip told me to get ready with my camera as it was possible we could see the eagle at any point from now on. I don’t think either of us expected much but as we stepped over a small skyline Philip made out an eagle’s outline through the mist.

Golden Eagle through mist

I fired off several shots not hoping for much because of the heavy fog. I was delighted with the result above after heavy processing with the dehaze filter in Adobe Lightroom.

The eagle knew we were there and kept looking directly at us but we stood still and didn’t approach further otherwise it was sure to fly away. After about 15 minutes the Eagle decided to move on by itself.

We continued to the spot Philip had planned and settled down for the day. Philip’s photography ethos where possible is to set up for a whole day in one remote, off-road location and be patient. This is a completely different mindset compared with many wildlife and photography guides where you move from one place to another by car to see as much as you can in the day. The location Philip had chosen was excellent and one I will definitely go back to. Out of respect for Philip and the birds I won’t share it here. But finding out about this location was the first clear benefit of booking a local knowledgeable guide.

For the next few hours we chatted and waited for the cloud to clear. This time was not wasted as Philip talked me through his photography top tips, many of which will help me improve my photography significantly. Learn to shoot in manual, it will take a bit of time to get used to but will be worth it. Manually fix Shutter Speed with Aperture with Auto ISO unless a sunny day and the light is changing in which case fix ISO on a representative area of grass or rock manually. These tips were really helpful and my second benefit from booking Philip.

As the cloud began to clear we started to see some Gulls, Rock Doves (genuinely wild birds unlike Feral Pigeons) and Hooded Crows through the mist. I tried to put into practice what Philip had shared and capture some bird in flight shots but the I kept failing to focus. After a very frustrating half hour Philip had a break thru as he diagnosed a problem with my lens. Some swapping with his kit proved beyond a doubt that there was a problem which was stopping me from focusing in certain conditions. (Later when I got home and did some research online I upgraded both my camera and lens’ firmware which helped). This was a real win for me as I had largely given up on birds in flight photography and blamed my own skill level. It was relieving to know the problem was not me but my kit (third benefit).

Working carefully not to trigger the autofocus problem I managed to get some passable shots of Rock Dove, Hooded Crow (one with Slow Worm) and Common Gull. I might now be ready if the eagle flew past.

A farmer came onto the hill to move some of his sheep and we watched through the clearing fog. Then suddenly the eagle took off from a hidden part of the nearby ridge, close to the farmer, and flew away. I fired off some shots but none of them were great when I looked back later, partly because I wasn’t quick enough, partly because the fog was still heavy and partly because the bird was flying away. It was lovely to see it again though. Philip concluded based on size that this was the female of the pair (slightly larger than the male).

We settled down for a few more hours. By now the sky was clear and we had a delightful view of the coastline and bay below. This really was an exceptional spot.

We also started to see some other birds of prey, namely Buzzard and Kestrel. Whilst not my target for the day it was great to put into practice the lessons Philip had shared with me. I captured what is probably my best ever photo of a Buzzard and Kestrel in flight. This confirmed my photography skills were improving under Philip’s tutorage (benefit 4).

Common Buzzard

By 3pm we had been on the hill for about 6 hours and Philip had to leave to catch the ferry. He encouraged me to stay for a couple more hours in the hope the eagle would return, which I was more than happy to do. I had started to settle into the slower rhythm of Philip’s approach and enjoy the mindful downtime as well as the location. I was learning patience which is perhaps the hardest lesson of all (benefit 5). Even without another sighting of the eagle and a close-up photo, Philip had been excellent value for money and I thanked him for his time.

Over the next 90 minutes I didn’t see anything apart from a couple of distant Kestrels and an RAF helicopter flyby. But I was enjoying this alone time in nature. Then about 4.30pm I started to be aware that lots of gulls and hoodies were mobbing a bird out of sight over the distant ridge. This carried on for at least 10 minutes which gave me the impression this must be a sizeable bird being mobbed – our eagle perhaps? Then joy of joys I saw the Golden Eagle rise above the ridge and give me some good but distant views. The two Kestrels were particularly aggressive in mobbing the Eagle as it moved through their territory.

I believe there are 4 different species of bird in the photo below – the Golden Eagle is one but can you name the other three?

4 species – can you name them?

With all the focusing practice during the day I was aware that my last battery was running low but I was still hoping to get closer shots. The Eagle continued to approach along the ridge at one point briefly landing.

My last battery died. I was disappointed as the eagle was close now but also happy in a way to be able to put my camera down and enjoy this magnificent bird with no photography agenda. I watched instead through my binoculars.

It was thrilling to see this bird get closer and closer until I became acutely aware that she was staring directly at me and now completely filled the view of my 8.5 magnification lens. I lowered my binoculars and looked out at this magnificent bird about 10m from me. Corny but true to say… we shared a moment.

Now I am not a big cryer but as the bird circled back around where I sat I actually choked up. Not because my camera was lying useless at my feet (although this would have been the photographic opportunity of a lifetime) but because this was such a pure encounter with such a wonderful bird in such a spectacular location, and I just couldn’t believe how blessed I was to experience it.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day with Philip and would strongly recommend a booking with Loch Visions. It was great to experience a wonderful location, patiently and improve my photographic knowledge and skills, whilst spending time with the spectacular Golden Eagle.

The three other species of bird in above photo were Hooded Crow, Kestrel and Curlew (left hand bird).

Over the rest of the week I did have other opportunities to photograph Golden Eagle and I share a few of the better shots here. That said I do hope one day to have another close-up opportunity with plenty of battery life left in my camera!


Whale Watching from Tobermory, Mull

We have just come back from a lovely week on the Isle of Mull and I will be sharing some of the nature highlights in three separate posts in the coming few days. First up is a wonderful whale watching trip we took with Sea Life Surveys from Tobermory. We took the four hour “Wildlife Adventure” option which cost £60 per adult.

Over the years I have been lucky to enjoy several wildlife watching boat trips. I have seen Sperm Whales from New Zealand, Pilot Whales from Tenerife and Humpback Whales from Iceland along with several UK dolphin trips. Each trip is special in it’s own way but I can honestly say this trip was as good as any I have done abroad and the best I have done in the UK.

First, the modern, fast boat meant we could make the most of the four hours and travel from Mull via the Ardnamurchan Peninsular to the north of the Isle of Coll and subsequently travel up to the south of the Isle of Muck before returning to port. We pretty much travelled from one sighting to the next with very little downtime. Second, the boat was generously staffed with, in addition to the captain, a dedicated wildlife guide and a knowledgeable volunteer who both explained what we were seeing. They also tuned in to individual interests (for example, not everyone had my appetite for seabirds) and shared more information with those who wanted it. Lastly, we were very fortunate with the conditions as we had very little wind, flat water and this meant any cetaceans (aquatic mammals) were easy to see a long way off.

Altogether we saw four different species of marine mammals – Bottlenose Dolphins, Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale and Common Dolphin. The following video shows some of the highlights of the trip,

Highlights featuring Bottlenose Dolphins, Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphins

Common Seals

As we travelled from Tobermory we saw several seabirds – Black Guillemot, Common and Herring Gulls and lots of Shags. We also passed a rock with some Common Seals (aka Harbour Seals).

Harbour Seal with pup

Bottlnose Dolphins

Before we left the coast of Mull we spotted Bottlenose Dolphins near a yacht which was ahead.

Bottlenose Dolphin ahead of yacht

Soon we were surrounded by a pod of about 7-8 Bottlenose Dolphins. This was a lovely experience as the dolphins interacted with the boat riding the bow wave when the boat was moving fast and swimming around when the boat slowed down. Bottlenose Dolphins are known to stay in close-knit family groups and the volunteers took several photos of dorsal fins to submit to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for identification. These were large dolphins (up to four meters) and great fun to watch as they sped between boats and rode the bow wave.

Harbour Porpoise

After about 20 minutes with the Bottlenose Dolphins we moved away and headed to the north of the Isle of Coll. At this location two currents from either side of the island meet and there is also a great variation in the depth of the water. This means that there are upwellings of currents which makes great conditions for sea birds and mammals.

As we approached the area we saw several seabirds including Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Common Guillemots (including Bridled), Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes and Great Skuas. Before long we saw a pod of several Harbour Porpoises. These behaved completely different to the Dolphins, making no effort to associate with the boat but just continued to feed and gently go about their business. There was also a clear size difference with these porpoises being one of the smallest of marine mammals (only up to 1.5 meters).

Harbour Porpoise

Minke Whale

Before long we also saw the much larger Minke Whale breaking the surface several times before diving. All in all we saw 2 or possibly 3 separate Minkes. Much larger than anything we had seen to date (7-10 meters), and only from a respectful distance, it was great to see these whales. Again we didn’t interact with these, the second smallest baleen whale.

Minke Whale

Common Dolphins

If our trip ended at this point I would still have rated it very highly, however our captain had spotted some dolphins to the south of Muck and we were soon off again. Before arriving, our guide had identified them as Common Dolphins (aka Short-Beaked), based on their behaviour. A Great Skua flew right over the boat and circled around as we arrived among the dolphins.

These dolphins interacted differently with the boat, frequently jumping out of the water (porpoising) and jumping onto their side. It was also a much larger pod with several dozen individuals together. Unlike their Bottlenose cousins Common Dolphins are not loyal to a family group and frequently join together in different pods and sometimes into groups a thousand strong.

Golden Eagle and Raven

After another 15-20 minutes with the Common Dolphins we returned to Tobermory via the Ardnamurchan Peninsular. As we travelled past the most western point of mainland Britain we saw several Ravens flying over the ridge and then two Golden Eagles. These were distant views through the binoculars but a fitting end to a great wildlife watching experience.

Final thoughts

This was a great trip and I would strongly encourage you to book yourself on a whale watching trip from Mull. We were very fortunate to see four species in one trip and clearly, with nature and Scottish weather, this cannot be guaranteed. I found it really helpful to see Common and Bottlenose Dolphins as well as Porpoise in one trip and am now confident I could confidently identify them from land after this educational trip (in fact I did later in the week from a coastal viewing point). Lastly, it was also excellent that the animals chose to come close to us or kept their distance, which was then respected by the boats. It is a privilege to see these magnificent animals in their habitat and important that their welfare is respected.


A trip to the Fife Coast

The Isle of May is a wonderful destination in season (May to July) and it is worth birding on the Fife Coast too as you approach Anstruther for the boat for a couple of east coast specialities. I thoroughly recommend a trip and in this post will share some of the things to look out for.

We had a trip planned a a month ago for migration season but it was cancelled due to high wind so it has been great to reschedule for mid-June. It is always worth booking a couple of dates in case the wind stops the boats from running.

East Coast Specialties

Before heading out to the Isle of May (1pm boat) we checked out the Fife Coast for a few hours or birding.

First target was the Corn Bunting. Sadly because of modern farming practices this bird has declined dramatically over the last 50 years and is firmly on the UK’s “red list”. This dumpy LBJ (little brown job) has a wonderful song and is known for flying with its feet dangling behind it. Corn Buntings cling on in Fife with an estimated 110 pairs established on the East Neuk. As we left Crail and approached Kilminning we scanned wires and posts and were delighted to see one conveniently perched in a nearby a lay-by. We pulled in and used the car as a hide as the trusting bird greeted us with its “jangling keys” call.

Corn Bunting singing

Our other main target was the Yellow Wagtail. This summer breading migrant is restricted to the East Coast in Scotland so I can’t see it at home. A local birder told us that there were 3 pairs between Crail and Anstruther so we stopped in a lay-by and scanned the nearby fields. After five minutes we were delighted to see a male and female pair flying over and landing nearby on the kale crop.


We took the fast boat out to the Isle of May from Anstruther. Whilst bouncing over the waves we saw several Gannets flying past in long lines. This is our largest sea bird and it is a wonderfully specialised bird, perfectly suited for plunge diving into the sea to fish. Recent research shows that they may actually change the shape of their eye lens to stay focused underwater when chasing prey. The nearby Bass Rock is the worlds largest Gannet colony with over 150,000 birds breeding here and they patrol the east coast from this base fishing to feed their young.

Gannets with Bass Rock in background

Grey Seals

Our boat approached the Isle of May from the north so our first contact was with the connected Isle of Rona.

We soon saw several Grey Seals both in the water and hauled out on the rocks. The Isle of May is a preferred breeding ground for Grey Seals with about 8,000 landing on the island each autumn and over 2,500 pups being born here each year. There were far fewer this June day but still plenty to form a descent welcoming party.

High rise living

Our boat travelled past the west coast cliffs before landing. The seabird colonies of Britain’s coast are really our equivalent of the Serengeti -a true wildlife spectacular. If you haven’t experiences the sights, sounds and even smells of a sea cliff bird colony book yourself on a trip as soon as you can, you won’t regret it

The cliffs around the Isle of May are home to thousands of Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and a few Fulmars. In this high-rise living each bird has it’s niche. At the bottom you have the Common Guillemots taking the lowest few stories of this seabird city.

Next come the Kittiwakes, looking quite like Common Gulls (found inland) but these gulls are only found at sea (or in Newcastle!). They come ashore to breed and they maintain a small territory from their neighbour on the crowded ledge where they lay their eggs and raise the young chicks.

Mixed in, and resting on the very highest levels of the seabird skyscrapper are the Razorbills. This is a beautifully marked bird with yellow gaping mouths, white marked bill and clear white line to the eye. This is one of the rarest auks in the world with less than a million pairs and they pair for life.

Lastly taking their place on this seabird city at the Fulmars. Most people would think that Fulmars are a gull species but their tube-noses tell a different story. This bird is actually closely related to the Albatross. The origins of their name comes from the old norse for “foul gull” due to their habit of vomiting stinking stomach oil on unweary intruders. I stayed well clear for this image, taken after landing, grateful for the reach of my camera lens.

Nature can be cruel

Whilst approaching our landing point we saw a bit of a commotion. A Great Black Backed Gull was struggling on the surface of the water whilst an anxious Kittiwake parent flew back and forth above. The Great Black Backed Gull is a top predictor in this habitat and easily capable of taking a Kittiwake chick and indeed this is what had happened here. Nature can be cruel at time but all birds have their place in this balanced echo system.

Bring a Walking Pole!

If you visit the Isle of May between May and July it is advisable to bring an umbrella or walking pole with you – something to hold above your head. There are over 2,000 Arctic Terns breeding on the Island and this species will defend their territory vigorously. This means they will fly at your head or whatever is your highest point (hence the walking pole). They will also use invasive walkers for target practice and I myself was promoted to a lance corporal and then full sergeant thanks to a series of deposits on my right shoulder. Arctic Terns live an amazing life with the longest migration of any living creature (from Arctic to Antarctic each year). We saw a few Common Terns along with the much more abundant Arctic Terns during our visit.


The Isle of May is famous for Puffins and fair enough, there are over 46,000 of them here during the breeding season, and they look lovely. This tiny auk has a classic profile when the bill is in full breeding colours. They nest in burrows so it isn’t possible to see the chicks but the adult coloured bill is a sight to behold. These birds are everywhere on the Island and it is wonderful to see so many almost everywhere you look. The classic image of the puffin is with a mouthful of Sand Eels and this is quite an easy image to capture when so many birds are present.

Other Breeders

Don’t overlook small birds on the Island. In mid-May you may come across an exciting migrant, but in June you can still find resident Pied Wagtail and indeed Rock Pipit flitting amidst the larger more dominant seabirds. Like it’s cousin the Meadow Pipit the Rock Pipet is a classic LBJ but with duller colours and slightly larger size allow you to distinguish it.

Rock Pipit

Whilst fewer in number the Oystercatchers on the island make up for their low numbers with volume. As they fly overhead they make quite a noise and if you approach their nest they will try to distract you by taking a prominent location nearby and chirping their alarm call anxiously.


Birds come to the Isle of May to breed and that means there are lots of youngsters around.

The chicks of Lesser Black Backed Gulls are lovely little fur-balls and can be found quite close to the path.

On the cliffs and rocks near the shore, Shags have also successfully bred. The green scaly serpentine sheen of the adult contrasts with the brown fluffy young.

Most of the Eider Ducks have already left the island in June but a few females were still on nests peaking up above the vegetation and others had formed a small creche on Island’s small lochan. The males have long-since left, leaving the females to fulfil all the child-rearing duties.

The Isle of May and Fife Coast is a wonderful place to visit and I hugely recommend you go. May to July are the best months to visit (May for the migrants as well as sea birds and later months for full on sea bird action). You can get to the Isle of May from Anstruther and also South Queensferry and North Berwick. The Nature Reserve maintain an excellent blog on latest goings on which is worth a look at any time of year but certainly before you go.

I can’t wait to go back next year.


A collaboration in Bird Art

Apart from blood relatives the person I have known longest in my life is my great school friend Jamie. When I was thirteen my family moved to Cumbria and I turned up at a new school, as a geeky teenager, knowing no-one! It didn’t take too long for me to make friends with Jamie and our friendship was a lifeline for us both at a difficult age and time.

Over the years our families holidayed together and I even lived with Jamie and his dad Tom (a wonderful man who passed a way a few years back) during my holidays from Uni. Jamie and Tom were really talented artists and I was somewhat hopeless at such things. But it was great to see them at work and the walls of their home were covered in amazing paintings. I will always remain grateful to Tom and Jamie for giving me a safe place in the world at this key time in my life.

The Art and Science of Wildlife Photography

I still don’t consider myself “artistic” as such. Well certainly I cannot paint or draw. However, in wildlife photography I have found a creative, even artistic, outlet that I really enjoy and can share with others.

For me there is both a science and an art to wildlife photography.

The science is all to do with camera settings, aperture and shutter speed, depth of fields and the exposure triangle. The art is all to do with fieldcraft, getting close to the subject, composition and capturing the subject’s character.

My style of wildlife photography is quite representational, with close identification photos of the bird or animal being my mainstay, so in my own head at least I wouldn’t really consider them art.

A journey in collaboration

Jamie and I have repeatedly grown apart and then closer again over the years (both geographically and relationally) but we have always remained connected as if by a friendship bungee cord.

Recently Jamie got married and moved to London and set up as a full-time artist. This presented an opportunity for us to collaborate to create some great Bird Art together. My role was definitely as junior partner, I gave Jamie access to all my wildlife photos. Jamie started painting some of them and, whilst I am unashamedly biased, I think they are great.

He has kindly given permission for me to share some of his work here and I would really encourage you to check out his work.

Time-lapse of Curlew Painting


Use the sliders (one webpage version of this blogpost only) to compare the original photograph and the subsequent painting by Jamie Oldham.

Treecreeper in Menstrie Wood

I took this picture of a Treecreeper in Menstrie Wood. It was busy feeding so it was possible to follow it from tree to tree. It flew down to the bottom of a nearby tree which meant I was able to photograph it at eye level which always makes a better shot. The shiny bill and huge claws are the standout features I wanted to capture. I love how Jamie has used gold-leaf in the painting and captured the silvery bill.

Nuthatch at Argaty Farm

Last January I took a session with some friends at the Woodland Hide at Argaty Farm. I really like Nuthatch as a bird which was once rare in Scotland but now seems widespread. When the Nuthatch landed on this gnarled wooden log I fired off several shots and this was one of my favourites. Jamie has really captured the essence of this bird with its dagger bill, sparkly eye and black eye stripe.

Puffin on Isle of May

Capturing a bird in flight is always more challenging than from a perch. You have to crank the shutter speed up to 800 or so and tracking the bird and using the right autofocus settings can also be a challenge. But if you go to the Isle of May in May or June you will have about 46,000 puffins to practice on. The challenge was to spot a bird far off loaded with sand-eels and track it as it came into land for the classic image. My photo had quite a distracting background and I like how Jamie has simplified the image to let the bird be the star.

Blue Tit
Blue Tit from my Garden

This was a photo I took during the start of lockdown when I decided to spend 10 minutes a day taking a photo within 10 steps of my house. It was very therapeutic to capture a different bird each day and discover that nature was right on my doorstep. I believe Jamie chose this photo as someone had commissioned a painting of a Blue tit. He has really nailed the stunning plumage of this common bird and again the gold-leaf really makes the painting sing.

Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit at Argaty

This Long-tailed Tit arrived in a large flock when I was at the Argaty hide (see Nuthatch above). There were at least a dozen of these birds taking turns at the feeder and I spotted this log as a place where they waited their turn. I liked the simple out of focus background which created a cleaner shot. This photo was published in Bird Watching magazine which was great bonus for me. I really appreciate how Jamie has captured the badger-head plumage of this bird, and again used gold-leaf to set the log alight.

Red-legged Partridge
Red-legged Partridge, Glen Clova

A few years back we took a holiday around Easter to Glen Clova. It was teaming with wildlife and it was a great opportunity to practice my wildlife photography. I don’t normally like taking photos of the backs of birds as it is usually a failure of fieldcraft for the bird to be moving away already. However, I was reasonably happy with this shot as the bird was checking me out whilst also showing its plumage in the fading light. Jamie’s painting creates a lovely focal point of the red eye whilst capturing the essence of this lovely bird.

Siskin in January Light

This is the first photo I took with the possibility of Jamie painting it in the back of my mind. I was out bird watching with a friend on a winters day looking mainly for waders at Skinflats pools. The day was drawing to a close and as we returned to the car I heard a flock of goldfinch and siskin nearby. The evening light was lovely and golden and this was a photo I was especially pleased with as it really captured the acrobatic feeding of this bird. I loved Jamie’s painting so much that I promptly bought it and it is now in pride of place in my lounge.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and please do check out Jamie’s artwork. One last credit, big thanks to Jamie for designing my logo, again from one of my photos of a White-tailed Eagle.


A drive up Sheriffmuir

May and June are great months to take a drive up Sheriffmuir as you are straight into moorland/upland habitat where you see a different range of wildlife to the lowlands. As a bonus the car acts as a great portable wildlife hide. In spring and summer, lots of birds come here to breed. Local migrants (Stonechat, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks), move attitudinally (from lower down farmland or the coast). But you also have a nice range of long distant migrants too (Whinchat, Wheatear and Cuckoo) which have travelled from Africa or Southern Europe.

At this time of year many birds are taking prominent perches on fence posts and tree branches and if you drive the car slowly with the windows open you will see many close up as well as hear them. Try to keep your arms and camera lenses inside the car at all times, pointing at a bird outside of the window is a sure way to flush them.

If you want to increase your chance of seeing Long or Short-Eared Owls go at dawn or dusk.

Short-Eared Owl

Blackhill Woods

Parking at the lower Dumyat Carpark by Whitehill and Blackhill Woods (grid reference NS 809976) provides an opportunity for an early walk. In these woods you can easy see all the normal woodland species (Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, Jays etc) but this year I have been pleased to find at least 3 singing Wood Warblers. These are delightful birds with a much more lemony yellow colour than other warblers and a strong black eyestripe with parallel yellow stripe above the eye. However it is their spinning coin song that really sets this bird apart.

Wood Warbler’s “Spinning Coin” song

Cocksburn Reservoir

If you continue your walk you come out of the woods and can take a walk around the Cockburn Reservoir. This is a great place to see all three species of Hirundines (Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin) as well as Swifts. On occasion in the evening I have seen several hundred birds flying over the insect rich water and it is great to improve your identification skills of these birds when all four species are present together. Ospreys frequently fish here too during the summer so keep an eye out for them.

In the shrubs around the loch it is a good place to look and listen for Sedge Warbler along with Reed Bunting.

Sedge Warblers have a loud incessant song but you might have to be patient to see them as they tend to stick to cover. However early in the season they often launch into quite a dramatic song flight circling at first 2-5m from the ground and then parachuting down to a perch singing throughout.

Sedge Warbler
Sedge Warbler Song

The Reed Buntings often take prominent perches and with their slightly annoying repetitive call which is hard to miss. The males have a strong black cap and white collar, females are plainer but often the pairs are together.

Male Reed Bunting on a Perch
Reed Bunting Call (Male)

Top of Track to Lossburn Reservoir

Continuing your drive up the Sheriffmuir Road a good place to stop is where the track from Menstrie via the Lossburn Reservoir reaches the road (NS81994).

The map shows a thin conifer plantation here but it was felled a few years ago. However several tall trunks remain looking a bit like leftovers from a bombing raid. These make great perches for the Male Cuckoo that has made this his territory. Listen for the well known male calling his name and use that to guide you to where the bird is.

Male Cuckoo
Cuckoo in remaining tree on Sheriffmuir

Anywhere along this road you are likely to see a Meadow Pipit taking a perch on a fence post or wire or potentially in song flight

Meadow Pipit on fence post

Around isolated trees further down Menstrie Glen you may find the rarer Tree Pipit. The Meadow Pipit is the default pipit until proven otherwise. To find a Tree Pipit watch for a display flight starting and ending in a tree and if views allow look for thin pencil (not bolder felt tip) markings on the bird’s flanks and a thicker bill.

But I find their songs also help distinguish – compare the more mundane Meadow Pipit song to the tree’mendous Tree Pipit song.

Meadow Pipit song (simpler)
Tree Pipit song (more complex)

Lade Walk

Continuing up the road and crossing the small river over a humpback bridge park shortly after where the road bends left (NN 828016). The stream is likely to have several Sand Martins and Swallows flying around. It is also a good place to watch for Dippers and Grey Wagtails in the stream. A great place to have a packed lunch if you have brought one too.

Walk north up the road for a short way and you will see a recently lade path (called Lade Walk) by a newly planted tree plantation. You can walk to the end and then return via the road making a short circuit of 1-2 miles.

The new plantation is an excellent place to look for Whinchat as they love an abundance of small perches and the young trees provides this. Rule out the more commoner Stonechat by remembering that the Whinchat have a bold stripe above the eye whereas the Stonechat has a bold white collar.

Male Whinchat

The plantation is also a good place to look for Northern Wheatear which frequently perch in the top of the small trees and on prominent boulders. The male has a bold black mask around the eye (like a bank robber) but both sexes are sleek and elegant birds.

This is also a good place to look for Buzzards (pictured below) often flying or perched on the telegraph poles as well as Red Kites and Kestrels. Cuckoos can be seen and heard here too.

Pheasants and Red Partridges can be seen almost anywhere on Sheriffmur. Both are beautiful birds albeit not native to Scotland and frequently the bird have been released for shooting or descended from those that survived game estates.

Red Partridge

Small Plantation near old Inn

Continue past the old Sheriffmuir Inn (now a private house) and this stretch of road is excellent for seeing and hearing Curlew, Skylarks, Stonechats and Wheatears. Park before the road bends left at a small tree plantation (NN 832026).

The fence lines here should be scanned for Stonechat before you leave the car. There is regularly a pair established here singing to defend their territory. Listen for their alarm call which sounds like tapping two strong together.

Stonechat alarm call

Once out of the car listen, what can you hear? You may hear a Cuckoo from the small stand of trees. Approach slowly and quietly and you should be able to get good views.

You might also hear the constant outpouring of a Skylark high in the sky above its nesting territory. They have been known to sing for 30 minutes without stopping!

Skylark in song flight

Another bird to look and listen to is the Curlew which has probably spent the winter on the coast but has come here to breed. You may see them flying but try not to follow them to the nest as that is very stressful for the bird. You are far more likely to only hear them although that is really the wrong phrase to use. The Curlew has a wonderful and varied song truly evocative of this habitat in summer and a great way to end a visit to Sheriffmuir.

Curlew peaking above the heather on Sheriffmuir

Highland Birding in May

Having been working from home and locked-down for over a year I took the first opportunity of relaxed restrictions to book on a Heatherlea “Birding the Highlands in May” holiday. It was good to get out enjoying Scotland’s wildlife with fellow birders and a couple of experienced guides. As a bonus it also gave my birding year-list a much needed boost from 134 to 158 (bird species spotted in Scotland in 2021).

The first bird of the holiday proper was the Snow Bunting (pictured above) which was great to see along with several Ring Ouzel viewed following a short walk from the heart of the Cairngorm National Park which was my base for the week.

In this post I will share some of the many highlights from the week, but out of respect for the birds (particularly the sensitive breeders), and Heatherlea’s guides (who have spent years building up a strong knowledge of where to go) I won’t reveal specific locations.

Scottish Bird’s of Prey

Over the week we saw 9, possibly 10, birds of prey and the density of such wonderful birds in stunning Scottish scenery was my first highlight of the week.

I saw my first bird of prey before I arrived at the hotel in Nethy Bridge seeing a Red Kite (1) from the car after I left the A9. The Black Isle was one of the early release sites in Scotland for Kites and it is good to see they have spread this far south. We saw two others during the week as well, including one around Braemar which may have travelled from the more recent Aberdeen release site.

On three occasions the guides took us to first-class raptor watching locations. At the first we saw a distant White-Tailed (2) and Golden Eagle (3), this was on the first day, and you just know you have arrived in the Highlands when you see your first eagles. At our second location we were really spoilt seeing two White-Tailed Eagles, two Peregrine Falcons (4), several Buzzards (5) and the highlight for me a Kestrel (6) chasing a Merlin (7) up close and offering sustained views. To me the drama of this moment surrounded by the beautiful Scottish mountains was a real highlight along with seeing the elusive Merlin close enough to make out the plumage details through my scope. Later the same day at another spot we watched for hawks and saw sustained and close views of a Sparrowhawk (8) chasing linnets and distant views of a probable Goshawk pair displaying. It was impossible to be certain of ID and these may also have been Sparrowhawks so the wait goes on to add Goshawk to my year, and indeed life, list.

Last, but certainly not least, was getting my first views of the year of Western Osprey (9). We found flying and fishing osprey on five separate occasions and also had scope views (respectful distance always maintained) of two separate Osprey nests.

The Osprey is a wonderful bird, full of character, and it was great to see it fishing, resting on a perch and nesting. The come-back of this once persecuted bird is a good-news story for Scotland and one to be celebrated. The fact that we encountered so many, at least seven different birds, at different locations, speaks to the quality of Scottish habitat.

All Four Scottish Grouse

During the week we saw all four species of Grouse found in Scotland – Red, Black, Ptarmigan and Capercaillie.

We had several close views of Red Grouse from the van driving across upland habitat and also had scoped views of a Black Grouse Lek with 9 males displaying.

Red Grouse

We had to work much harder for the Ptarmigan walking a couple of miles from the road to get distant scope views. Upon returning to the van we found a pair close by – typical of the characterful Ptarmigan! Being a hillwalker I see this bird frequently often only seeing them at the last minute but this was a real highlight of the trip for several English birdwatchers in the group.

We were delighted to get close views of a both a female and male Capercaillie. This is a rare bird in Scotland, as there is not enough quality and undisturbed Caledonian pine forrest in this country. It is therefore a very hard bird to see without the help of professional guides and cannot be guaranteed even then. I was delighted to see this iconic bird and add it to my life list.

Female Capercaillie crossing the road

Spring Migrants

With so much quality habitat in Scotland it is no wonder we had some good views of various recently-arrived spring migrants.

Top of the list for me was hearing and getting close-up views of a male Pied Flycatcher. For me seeing and hearing a bird really helps me to learn its song which in term massively increases the chances of me noticing them again. This is a lovely bird and over the last few years it has been making the most of schemes to install nest boxes in highland woods.

We also had good views of Wood Warbler, which looks a bit like Willow Warbler but with striking black eye-stripe and additional lemony yellow tones. It also has a lovely distinctive “spinning coin” song which is the main way you know one is around. This seems to be a good year for Wood Warbler although perhaps this is temporary due to them being held up by a cold snap and maybe they will shortly continue north but hopefully many will stay put.

Wood Warbler
Wood Warbler “Spinning Coin” song

It was also great to see and hear Cuckoo which is of course a spring migrant having returned from wintering in Africa. We heard several males singing “cuckoo, cuckoo” during the week but I was pleased to also see my first Cuckoo of the year sitting on a wire. I will try to get closer views in the next month or so nearer to home.


We saw several Northern Wheatear too in a mix of habitats – farmland, marsh and high moorland. This is a striking bird with a dark eyestripe, especially strong on the male – somewhat like a bank robber’s mask. Some of these birds will be here to breed but others are just travelling through and were of the larger Greenland subspecies.

We also spent time by lots of rivers and would frequently hear the sound of Common Sandpiper flying past. We had one very close view on a wet morning of a soggy Common Sandpiper from the car too.

Common Sandpiper song
Soggy Common Sandpiper

At the other extreme from Spring Migrants was seeing one of the winter thrushes -Redwing – staying put for the summer, a potential rare breeder in Scotland. Similarly we also saw a pair of Slavonian Grebe a very rare breeder in Scotland.

Boat Trip to Troup Head

We had a boat trip to RSPB’s Troup Head. It was a great morning surrounded by huge numbers of Gannets and Common Guillemots but also Eider Duck, Razorbills, Puffins, Black Guillemots, Cormorants, Shags, Kittiwakes and other Gulls, Fulmar, Grey Seals and several Great Skuas.

Very annoyingly I made the rookie mistake of not selecting a faster shutter speed for my camera so didn’t get any good photos from the day but I share a few of the less blurry ones here. Fortunately I have a trip planned to Isle of May shortly so will hopefully make up for this mistake then.

The sights, sounds and smells of our sea cliff bird colonies is a wildlife spectacular which I would thoroughly recommend anyone experience.

Other Highlights

I was delighted to get a second life tick during the week with Corn Bunting. This is a bird I have looked for before but never spotted and is in worrying decline across the country. It has a lovely “jangling bunch of keys” song which used to be widely heard throughout our countryside but due to agriculture intensification is now a real rarity.

Corn Bunting’s “Jangling Keys”
Corn Bunting on wire

We also saw several mammals including Red and Roe Deer most days along with Brown Hares which appeared more common in the Strathspey than Rabbits.

Brown Hares

Last but not least was spending a week surrounded by some wonderful Scottish scenery.

Views from Bealach na Bà, Applecross

All in all it was a great week, I saw 123 species of birds and heard three more. If you are a keen birder wanting to have a packed week seeing the best of Scottish birdlife I would happily recommend Heatherlea.


A walk in Menstrie Woods

Menstrie Woods at the foot of Dumyat has a lovely mix of wildlife living within it. I have taken a walk here most weeks over the last year. I particularly enjoy the high path that goes from the woodland play park up into higher woodland.

May is a great time to visit as all the bluebells and wild garlic is coming into flower and it looks and smells amazing. It is harder to see the birds as the trees are in leaf but they are all singing and the forest music is turned to maximum.

In this post I will share some of the highlights of what I have seen over the last few months. Most of the pictures and all the videos are from within the wood, a few are of species I have seen in the woods but better quality pictures taken elsewhere.

Returning Migrants

A recent arrival to the woods are the returning Blackcaps and a real favourite of mine. Whilst some do winter in UK (not in Menstrie Woods), most head to Southern Europe or North Africa. They arrived back in the first half of March. The chances are the first thing that will alert you to them being around is their alarm call which sounds like two stones being banged together, similar to a Stonechat if you know that sound.

Blackcap Alarm Call

Be patient and if you are lucky they might come out of the undergrowth and you can see this lovely bird. Often the male bird seems to get the naming rights and that is the case here – only the male has a black cap, the female’s is just as fetching but brown.

Male Blackcap in Menstrie Woods
The Female Blackcap

If you wait around you might hear the male’s song which sounds like he is practising to be a Blackbird, a bit scratchy and unaccomplished at first but then he hits his stride and gets the hang of it with a deep Baritone polish.

Blackcap Song

Roaming flocks

When you are walking around the woods you might suddenly realise there are a lot of birds around you. If so you may have come across a roaming flock. Groups of birds travel together to find food and for safely – the more eyes, the better for spotting predators. The flock will almost certainly include Blue, Great and Coal Tits but may also include Long-Tailed Tits, Goldcrests, Chaffinches and one of my favourite birds, Treecreepers.

Winter Visitors

Over the winter, we also had quite a few Siskin and Lesser Redpoll travelling around the woods and these are great birds to spot. Once you know the Lesser Redpoll’s flight call (which sounds like morse code), you find out it is actually quite a common bird.

Lesser Redpoll flight call

The Siskin is a stunning yellow bird, particularly the male, whilst the Redpoll has the red dot on the forehead after which it is named.

Male Siskin
Lesser Redpoll in Menstrie Woods

Tree Climbers

There are three birds that you are most likely to see climbing trees in the woods and they are each wonderful birds.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker will be heard drumming on most walks in the woods from January to April. But their call can really help to find them too.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Drumming
Great Spotted Woodpecker Call
Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

It is easy to tell the sex of a GSW as the male has red on the back of the head whilst the female has black. Juvenile’s have a red cap on the top of their heads too so are easy to distinguish from the adults.

The Treecreeper is well named as you will always see it creeping mouselike up the side of trees. It is very well camouflaged, matching the bark until it moves side on and you can see it’s white belly. Treecreepers move up a tree and then fly down to the bottom of another before moving up the next one. They never climb downwards (unlike our next bird). They have fantastically long claws to hold on and a long silvery bill for digging out insects.


The last of the tree climbers is the Nuthatch. This bird has advanced up through Scotland during the last 20 years (demonstrating the impact of climate change) and is now common here. Nuthatches visit the feeder at the bottom of the woods but can also be seen climbing up and down the trees. The long black eyestripe appears as an extension to its dagger-bill.


A war zone

Of course we also have mammals in Menstrie Woods including both species of resident Squirrels. From my experience the native Red is found more further west in the woods and the introduced Grey’s nearer the village itself. It is great that our native Reds are making a come back in Menstrie and elsewhere in Scotland and they may have the Pine Martin to thank. Reds being smaller can run further on smaller branches than the Greys and therefore escape the Pine Martins more often than their larger North American cousin. This maybe enough to tip the balance in favour of the Reds where Pine Martins are present.

Grey and Red Squirrels in Menstrie Woods

Roe Deer

We also have a herd of Roe Deer in the Woods. They are quite sensitive to noise but if you go on the top path you are quite likely to see them, if only their white behinds bouncing away. If you sit still high in the woods they may well come quite close to you before noticing you.

Roe Deer in Menstrie Woods


Often we are the cause of most disruption in the woods. But if you learn to step lightly and be quiet this ceases to be the case. After that, every so often you might be in the woods and notice a real commotion.

You might hear some loud screeching, even screaming. Far from subtle, you could be forgiven for thinking someone was being tortured – you are hearing a band of Jay’s. They are beautiful, shy and very intelligent Corvids (member of the Crow Family) but they do make a racket.

Jay call

Another reason for possible pandemonium in the woods is that a bird of prey is travelling through. This could be a Sparrowhawk darting between the trees or perhaps a Common Buzzard. Either way it is likely all the smaller birds will alarm call and dive for the nearest cover.

The Buzzards often perch in the Woods

Funnily enough the Jay has a wicked sense of humour as it has learnt to incorporate a Buzzard call into its’ own repertoire. I like to think it does it just for fun to see all the other birds react in this way.

Common Buzzard
Jay impression of Common Buzzard

An alternative Big 5 – the White-Tailed Eagle

Hopefully you have seen Scotland’s Big 5 – Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Golden Eagle, Otter and Harbour Seal. If you haven’t why not set these as a target for a wildlife holiday around Scotland or to see all five during the rest of the year. Doing so will take you to some wonderful places and you will have some fantastic wildlife encounters.

Scotland’s Big 5 is a great list but some of my best wildlife experiences have been outside of these five so I thought I would share my alternative Big 5 species over the next few months. No need to choose between the lists, put both sets together and you will have a tremendous ten to aim for.

First up for me is the White-Tailed Eagle, or Sea Eagle, and this wonderful bird will be the subject of this post. Let me share 5 reasons why the White-Tailed Eagle is in my alternative Scotland’s Big 5.

1. This is a huge bird

Both our resident eagles – White-Tailed and Golden – are huge birds but with a wingspan of up to 2.4m the white-tail is Scotland’s largest resident bird. Just think about that, this bird has a wingspan which is wider than a tall person is tall.

A simple rule for me is if you have seen a bird of prey and you are wondering if it is a buzzard or an eagle, then it’s a buzzard. Once you have seen an eagle, except for distant specks in the sky views, you will simply know you have seen an eagle. People often tell me they have seen a Golden Eagle on a fencepost or telegraph pole and I hate to tell them they have actually seen the “tourist eagle” (that is a Common Buzzard). Once you have seen the flying barn door of a White-Tailed Eagle you know you have seen an eagle because it is massive.

Look at the size of this bird compared to the Hooded Crows tagging on for some scraps left over from a fish this eagle has caught.

White-Tailed Eagle and Hooded Crows

2. They are actually quite easy to see

Go to Mull or Skye, fantastic hotspots for eagles, and you are likely to see a White-Tailed Eagle if you drive around the coast, take your time, stay mindful and keep your wildlife eyes open. But drive anywhere along the west coast of Scotland and you have a good chance of seeing this bird too. I have had some great impromptu sightings when driving around the coast and some of my best photo opportunities have been brief but spectacularly unplanned encounters such as the photo below.

White Tailed Eagle flying alongside the car on a drive on Skye

3. And you can see them close up

For a spectacular up close wildlife encounter it is hard to beat the White-Tailed Eagle. Is this close enough for you?


I mean seriously, look at that bill? Look at the eye and the individual feathers. You couldn’t really confuse that with a Buzzard could you?

You can have a close up encounter with a White-Tailed Eagle like in the above photo by booking on one of the boat trips organised to see them from Mull or Skye. Some wildlife purists don’t like this form of wildlife tourism. On the boat trips they do feed the birds by throwing out fish for the eagles to fly in and take which is how they guarantee close-up views. But fishermen have been throwing out scraps for eagles for hundreds of years and we all feed blue-tits in our gardens so I don’t have a problem with it. For a first encounter, one to get the kids enthused about wildlife or just to try your hand at bird photography definitely a great place to start. Or you can visit them at Mull Eagle Watch a fantastic community based project.

4. They are a conservation good news story

There are a lot of birds in decline across the UK but the White-Tailed Eagles are coming back, and coming back from extinction in Scotland.

White-Tailed Eagles were persecuted to extinction in Scotland when the last bird was shot in Shetland in 1918. Whilst there was a stronghold over the North Sea in Norway, and these birds occasionally visited, they were only a rare visitor until conservationists took action in the 1970s.

Often eagles have two chicks but normally only the first born survives, the second is largely an insurance policy if the first egg fails. Conservationists took the second chick from nests in Norway and hand reared them before releasing them in Scotland. Birds were released on the Isle of Rum in 1975, Wester Ross (1993-98) and on the East Coast (2007-2012). You often see wing tags on these birds left by conservationists and with a good photo this can identify the story of the individual eagle.

In 2013 they bred naturally in Scotland for the first time since the 19th Century. There is also evidence of the Scottish and continental population mixing and cross-breeding which is important for long-term success.

So remember when you see this bird you have many hard working conservationists to thank.

5. They can turn up anywhere

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to see the White-Tailed Eagle go to the west coast of Scotland, preferably one of the Islands like Mull or Skye, as this is their stronghold.

But now we have Sea Eagles breeding we have juveniles. And young White-Tailed Eagles travel for several years before pairing up and establishing a territory. And this means they can be seen almost anywhere. It isn’t likely you will see an eagle flying over your garden, but it is possible.

I should note that juvinille birds do not have the white tail or lighter head, but are all dark brown. But they still have the characteristic barn door profile, huge bill and long primary feathers (“fingers” at end of wing) to mark them out.

They have been spotted in the Ochils above where I live in Clackmannanshire – most likely an east coast released bird. And they will also head into England too. And since six birds were released on the Isle of White in 2019 and another seven in 2020 they are likely to become more common sights across England too. Recent sightings include North Yorkshire, Kent and Somerset.

And if you want to follow them online some of the birds have satellite tags so you can see where they have been travelling.

The lovely White Tail, barn door profile and long primary feathers are great features for identifying this bird

I will be sharing another of my Alternative Scotland’s Big 5 soon.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

I have been wanting to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana since I was a child. My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in July 2022 and this gave us the perfect excuse to finally go.

After a few days in Chobe, we flew into the delta by small plane into a exclusive lodge serving a maximum of 16 guests and before we knew it we were on our first game drive and straight up we saw our first Leopard walking along a faint track in the drying grass.


Before long it jumped up a tree and lay down.

We continued along to the side of the flooded river and several Red Lechwe’s were running across the flooded grass. This antelope is a water specialist.

Red Lechwe

It seemed likely they were running from something and we were delighted to see two male Lions appear on the far side. Our guide explained that these two Lion’s were brothers and this was their territory.

Before long the Lion’s actually crossed the water towards us and walked right past us so close that I was able to capture an amazing head portrait.

Continuing back to camp we saw a single Elephant and a group of Giraffes, both situations allowed environmental shots with trees playing a supporting role including the typically African baobab tree.

Early the next morning we were out early on our own and delighted to see our only Spotted Hyena of the trip, I was surprised how large it was to be honest, as it walked past the jeep in the low light.

It wasn’t long before we had another Leopard sighting finding one taking the highground from a termite mound.

After we watched it for about 20 minutes it got up and came and sat right by the jeep. When people ask me how close we got to the animals I show them the following picture. You don’t get much closer than that!

Whilst the focus here was mammals we did see lots of birds in the Okavango too and here are a few of the better ones.

We took a makoro canoe out on to the water one day and had great views of so many Angolan Reed Frogs. Tiny some were the size of a finger nail. Along with lots of water lilies.

We also saw numerous Hippos but not too close for comfort and a single buffalo.

But the highlight of the canoe trip was having sustained views of several Malachite Kingfishers some of which gave amazingly close photo opportunities.

We saw so much more on this trip and this post is only long enough to share a few of the absolute highlights. Other animals shown below include Wildebeest, Warthog, Side-Stripped Jackal, and Vervet Monkeys.

And yes we had even more Leopard Sightings too including this sleeping beauty in a tree.

Sleeping Leopard

The African Sunsets were amazing too and a good way to end this post.

Chobe National Park, Botswana

So if you have been following this blog for a while I guess the title of this post might come as a bit of a surprise. Yes I have decided to expand the blog beyond Scotland.

My wife and I are planning to go travelling in Central and South America next year and I know wildlife watching and photography will be a big part of that trip and I am excited about sharing it. And I am too cheap to invest in a second domain name.

And so I have decided to start by sharing some of the highlights from my travels the last few years and that means Africa, Botswana and for this post Chobe National Park where we spent an amazing 3 days last July. I was super excited about this trip for several reasons, it was my first time on a proper safari (ignoring a couple of days out on work trips to Nigeria and Burkina Faso), I had a brand new camera (Canon R5) and was excited to try it out and my wife and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary!

Chobe is famous for having one of the most concentrated populations of Elephants on earth and not surprisingly it didn’t take long to find this magnificent creature.

I thoroughly recommend the river cruises as a way to see lots of bird life. Two birds we saw a lot of were the African Darter and the Pied Kingfisher. They were common features along the river bank.

Continuing along the river we got good views of our first crocodile, I managed to get a nice closeup.

Several Storks and Herons were feeding along the river – in photos below Yellow-Billed Stork, Goliath Heron, Grey Heron and three Open Billed Storks.

Smaller birds were constantly feeding including Long-Toed Lapwing and Black Winged Stilts

Being far from the sea I wasn’t particularly expecting to see gulls but I had done my research and knew one was possible and sure enough there was a Grey Headed Gull, a lovely elegant bird. The R5’s eye detection helped me capture it in flight.

Understated elegance is one thing, bold brilliant splashes of colour were another. And the Little Bee Eaters delivered this with aplomb. I was pleased to capture this confiding pair.

Coming back the next day I captured this photo of another common bird the African Fish Eagle.

Before long we were seeing several large groups of Elephants too with lots of interactive play in and out of the water which was lovely to see.

Another herd was on a headland into the river, this time Waterbuck which were the only examples of this species we saw in Botswana and a couple of Kudu

Several Wire Tailed Swallows were flying around the boat and one landed close enough for me to reach out and touch. I settled for this photo instead.

On an area of reeds we saw an African Stonechat very similar to the close relative we have back home

From the boat we had distant views of Lions resting in the shade but when it was time to drive back to the lodge we went via the same spot and had much closer views from the vehicle enabling me to take these pictures.

We saw several Giraffes too mostly very elegant in their movements but not so much when doing the near splits to access a salt lick for much needed minerals.

We added several new birds on this drive including those below. The Kori Bustard was a highlight as Botswana’s national bird.

We stopped at a picnic area for a leg stretch and a small troop of Vervet Monkey enabled me to get several shots including a couple of closeups I was quite pleased with in the golden light.

The last photo I took of the day was a Hippo out of the water showing how truly massive they are.

We did another cruise on the river and early on I was really pleased to isolate and capture this magnificent male Greater Kudu. A really powerful animal.

Greater Kudu

I was being more choosy with the shots I took now and was pleased to take some photos of an Impala gazing with Elephants providing the background. Slightly more depth and interest in the shot.

Getting back onto some birds my photo of the trip so far was a super closeup of this stunning but tiny Malachite Kingfisher. Our skilled guide turned the engine off and we drifted to within about 2m of the bird as it took a rest from digging a hole in the mudbank.

Malachite Kingfisher

Another bird I had been hoping to see was the African Skimmer. It has an improbably large lower bill used for skimming along the water open billed and snapping shut when it senses a fish. We found a pair nesting on a small sandy island.

Nearby we saw more Water Thick-knees a close relative of our Stone Curlew. Their large eyes betray their largely nocturnal habits.

Water Thick Knee

By this point we had seen the common egrets (Great White, Cattle and Little) so I was pleased to pick out a slightly different bird which the guide confirmed was an Intermediate Egret.

One bird I knew from eBird research we should see in Chobe but had not seen yet was the Yellow Bellied Greenbull, I mentioned this to the guide and he boldly declared he knew a spot. Sure enough 5 minutes later we drove up to a bush, he parked and said give it a minute, and suddenly there it was. Impressive knowledge and shows the value of local guides.

On our final morning in Chobe we got up early and headed down to the river. We were amazed to see about 800 Buffalo preparing to cross the river. After a while they started and it was great to see this mini migration.

Other animals were around including several Zebras

It was time for us to leave to catch our plane onwards to the Okavango Delta, but we were pleased to catch a final Tawny Eagle as our last bird in Chobe.

A wonderful 3 days in Chobe National Park, adventure of a lifetime. Next stop Okavango Delta.

Isle of May (in May)

It appears that a visit to the Isle of May is an annual pilgrimage for me one way or another. So it was good to connect with one old and three brand new birding friends to pay another visit this week.

We saw the usual sea birds on the way out including a Sandwich Tern, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots. But the highlight was this Fulmar that followed the boat for a few minutes

Once on the Island I was surprised that the Terns had not arrived yet. In a week or so they should be here apparently. And I had brought walking poles to fend them off but they were not needed.

We headed up to the lighthouse and looked around the garden hoping for some newly arrived migrants but only found a couple of Willow Warblers and a Wheatear. After leaving the garden we found several Eider Ducks, the males looking especially stunning and the females cryptic on their nests.

Continuing to the western cliffs for a bite to eat we had good views overlooking the cliffs. This is one of my favourite spots on the Island.

Closeup views of Razorbills with their stunning face markings. This is a hard bird to photograph as exposing for the dark eye can leave the black head looking chocolate brown.

Common Guillemots are also present lower down on the cliffs. These birds have one of the smallest territories of any bird. Matters of inches separate birds on the ledges but invisible lines still matter.

Fulmars were present too nesting on the far cliff but a couple were also present nearby. Many people mistake these for gulls but a closer look reveals their tube-noses which actually mean they are fairly close relatives of Albatrosses.

There were gulls here though, beautiful Kittiwakes with a kind face and narrow red eye-ring.

Of course the main reason people come to the Isle of May is to see Puffins. An estimated 46,000 pairs breed here. Having been here before I didn’t take too many photos of the puffins, no need to delete a thousand photos when I get home. It was a bit early to see them with sand-eels in their mouth waiting to feed the chicks. These are still eggs at the moment. But I fired off a few shots trying to isolate the birds against a distant background.

We moved through an area mostly populated by Lesser Black-Backed Gulls. These are looking smart with their bright yellow legs and clean features.

We then spotted a small bird hopping around in the grass. A Greater (Common) Whitethroat. This was my first of the year and no doubt just stopping off on migration.

Turning the corner and of course there were more Puffins. There were always more Puffins on the Isle of May.

We continued to the southern point of the Island overlooking a couple of sea-stacks. I immediately noticed a stunning Bridled Guillemot. This is the same species and sub-species as a Common Guillemot (Uria aalge) but a different form featuring a white eye-ring and line behind the eye. It gets more common as you travel north from less than 1% in the south to over 20% in the far north.

Several Shags were nesting on the cliffs too. Not one of my favourite birds but nice to see the bottle green colours and scaly feathers.

Without any terns to dodge we made quick progress back to our boat. Before leaving the Island altogether the boat took us around beneath the cliff where we saw many thousands of birds taking the prized real estate of each ledge and rock.

In the sea in front of the cliffs many birds were also swimming in the sea such as this Guillemot pictured.

The final bird of the journey was Gannets passing by from the nearby Bass Rock.

A trip to the Isle of May is never about seeing lots of new species but rather bathing in the company of thousands and thousands of seabirds. See you next year.

Winter Wonderland at Caerlaverock

As a season, winter can be cold, wet and dark but if you can look beyond the weather there is a wonderland of wildlife out there to be observed.

Now I look forward to spring and the return of all our summer migrants (along with warm sunny days and emerging flowers) as much as anyone. But let us not forget that Scotland also has another set of amazing migrants that visit each winter. Whilst our summer migrants tend to come for insects (to eat) and mild summer (to breed), our winter migrants tend to come for winter food sources (seeds, berries, grass and mudflats) and for mild winter and to survive. And they come in huge numbers. Whilst our summer migrants are spread wider our winter migrants often gather in huge numbers close to where the food is found and that means estuaries and mudflats.

One place to see these migrants in huge numbers is the fantastic reserve at WWT Caerlaverock. This is one of my favourite places to visit at any time of year but especially in winter. Oh and the amazing (in some case heated) hides are a welcome luxury for a cold and windy winters day too.

Upon arrival we went to the main Peter Scott observatory (heated!) and were immediately struck by the number of swans and wildfowl present.

Hundreds of swans, mostly family groups of Whoopers here from Iceland for the winter but some local Mute swans too. In fact we had seen several groups on the drive up to the reserve grazing in the nearby fields. WWT sites are a great place to bring kids for the sheer proximity and quantity of wildlife it is a great way to get them engaged. To be honest it works for the adults too. The swan feed brings in huge numbers of birds very close and whilst it feels a bit like a zoo, these are wild birds free to come and go as they please.

There were also numerous ducks present including Tufties, Mallards, Wigeon, a few Teal and two Gadwall. A few Canada Geese were enjoying the food handouts too.

We walked out to the distant Saltcot Merse observatory and scanned. A Little Egret, Hundreds of Lapwing and Golden Plover, a few Shelduck. Curlew, Lapwing and Teal were present in good numbers on the Folly Field. The light was poor at this point for photos so we returned to the hide and tower over looking the Folly Pond close to the main reserve.

I needed Shoveler for my year list so was pleased to see these charismatic ducks with huge bills for feeding. They were often feeding in pairs working together spinning in circles with their heads buried in the water. My guess was that one was disturbing the mud whilst the other snapped up anything that moved.

As the swan feed was well past families of swans were relocating and moving all the time into the Folly Pond.

We climbed up the Farmhouse Tower and got several amazing views of these elegant birds flying from one pond to the other often within meters of the tower itself. It felt like we were in the air traffic control tower at a busy bird airport.

In the small garden near the entrance we were pleased to see several smaller birds, Great and Blue Tit, Bull, Green, Gold and Chaffinch. House and Tree Sparrows, and unusually sharing the same shrubs.

There was one other bird we had come to see in huge numbers and that was the Svalbard Barnacle Goose. Now again we had seen flocks of a few hundred strong on the drive into the reserve and again distant views from the various walks we had done. But Caerlaverock is one of the few places you can reasonably expect to see thousands of birds not just hundreds. And close and not just distant views. Throughout our visit I had seen flocks flying in and out beyond the north of the reserve so we headed out to the Newfield hide and there they were a flock of perhaps 4,000 strong. It was getting on for sunset and they were gathering in bigger and bigger groups. And then in one glorious noisy cacophony they lifted off to go out to roost on the nearby mudflats.

I recently read a great book on the origin of bird names “Mrs Moreau’s Warbler” by Stephen Moss. He points out that the name Goose/Gander is one of the oldest bird names we have. It has its origins many thousands of years ago and consequently is shared across most European languages. The eldest bird names tend to be associated with species that were useful to mankind. And sitting here watching thousands of geese lift off from nearby fields it isn’t hard to see how our ancient ancestors would be impressed with this spectacle and of course prized winter food source. Early man must have looked forward to the thousands of geese dropping from the sky each winter just as times were getting tough and food hard to come by. You would find a name quickly for such bounty.

That was a good thought to end with as our day with the flocks of swans and geese came to an end. One last honk lifted my eyes and a late swan was coming into the nearby pond. In the low light it stood out like a winter ghost.

Waxwing lyrical (in a roundabout way)

A roundabout isn’t a place you would usually associate with nature. And a fairly busy roundabout in congested Sighthill, Edinburgh even less so. But… this is winter, and winter means Waxwings. Well sometimes it does. Last year it didn’t! It was a poor year for waxwings. Too many berries in Scandinavia for them to bother invading our shores in any reasonable numbers. This year there are a few around and I was keen to track them down having not seen them since 2020.

So this is what took me to a roundabout in Edinburgh scanning the trees and bushes. I wasn’t successful and after half an hour of searching I gave up continuing to my usual haunt, Musselburgh. Seeing someone with a full on TV camera, I got chatting to a cameraman filming for BBC Winter Watch. He was filming Redshank but he casually mentioned that he had spent the last couple of days filming Waxwings at a nearby roundabout – rub it in why don’t you.

I spent a couple of hours enjoying the birds of Musselburgh including close-up views of Velvet Scoters and Long-Tailed Ducks. Then joy of joys my phone pings and BirdGuides is telling me that the Waxwings have been seen again at an adjacent roundabout to the one I had just come from. The game is on.

Twenty minutes later I am stood in the middle of a roundabout in Sighthill looking like I had slept the night before with a coat-hanger in my mouth – huge grin on my face. Waxwings baby!

I love this little bird – it looks like it is fully dolled up for a night out on the town. Punk hair do, bold streak of eye-liner, a little bit too much make-up but so skilfully applied who minds.

Now I don’t just love the look of Waxwing, I love their call too. If this isn’t a dose of Christmas cheer what is? It is Santa’s sleigh passing by isn’t it?

The birds kept flying down to the ground to eat berries. One would pluck up courage and then they would all go and before long there were (I think) 23 Waxwings feeding. More eyes to spot danger perhaps a cat, a car or a photographer.

Perhaps more unexpectedly they were also coming down to a wall, landing on the snow and appearing to eat the snow. I wasn’t sure what this behaviour was about but certainly didn’t mind it as it gave me an opportunity to take photos at eye-level with the birds and also experiment with different depth of field. They were constantly moving so often it was hard to get them in focus. The Waxwing gets their name from the colourful wings which look like they have been dipped in candle wax.

I was taking photos of a couple of birds and then the whole flock came down, landing one after the other, jostling for position.

I really do love Waxwing, I think they are my favourite winter migrant. So keep an eye out at roundabouts near you, oh and supermarket carparks too!

Christmas birding and the year of the Snow Goose

Nothing like a couple of weeks off to plan to get out and see some wildlife after a busy few months with work. And I thought I would just share what I have been seeing over the Christmas and New Year break.

Taking a walk from my house in Menstrie and I see the Kestrel is back hunting and she is a beauty. No chance of taking her by surprise as she follows me with her piecing glare and then she is off.

There are lots of different birds around today, the ground is frozen and they are competing a bit harder for any good food going. As I walk along the cycle path towards the river they are all on the look out – Yellowhammer atop his perch, a Redwing’s eyes peeled, a beautiful Tree Sparrow, a Goldfinch singing, a flock of Siskins busy feeding, a female Bullfinch sitting proud – not a bad count for only 200 meters or so.

As I approach the river a female Goosander is pulling some expressive moves and then settles down to its more usual serene glide.

I leave the cycle path and head downstream along the River Devon. I am scanning a distant field of Black-Headed Gulls when a Grey Heron flies in front and lands, returning to a grey statue once again.

A few bends later and I disturb a Hare from the edge of the field and it sprints away, then turns and doubles back, ears pointed to the sky, legs moving like train pistons.

Walking home I spot a couple of pigeons in the field, these look a bit smaller and “stockier” so I raise my binoculars and am pleased to see they are indeed Stock Doves. A nice bird for my home patch and not one I see too often here.

Someone has reported an Iceland Gull in Stirling on BirdGuides and whilst I have seen one this year I have never seen one in Stirling so it seems worth a trip. I head into town where it was last seen. I am looking for an all white Gull with no black in the wings. After 5 minutes looking around at roofs and lampposts and seeing only Black-Headed and Common Gulls I decide to run some errands at the nearby Sainsbury’s. And there on a lamppost in the middle of a busy supermarket carpark is an all white Gull. I fire off a few pictures. When I get home I post the pictures on the local birders group and the verdict comes back unanimous that whilst this is the previously reported bird it isn’t an Iceland Gull but in fact a leucistic Herring Gull. It was a good learning point for me and others in the group.

After Christmas we pop out to Loch Leven for a few hours. The feeders at Vane Farm are popular. Greenfinch, Blackbird, Dunnock, Robin, Chaffinch all put in an appearance.

Heading down to the hides there isn’t much nearby. On the Loch I scan with the scope seeing Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Goosander, Pochard, Mute Swan, Cormorant – but all too distant for photographs.

A Buzzard sets up on a nearby post, scanning the field in front.

Before we continue a Little Egret flies in and stalks the channel. These white herons are getting more common in the area, I even saw one in Menstrie a couple of weeks back.

It is New Year’s Day and I am keen to start my year list with something decent. I recently read a book about someone’s big birding year and they had the habit of naming the year after the first bird they saw.

I kept the windows closed as I made my coffee not really wanting this to be the year of the Feral Pigeon. I scanned BirdGuides and felt the best bird around was a Snow Goose near Drymen. With any luck 2023 could be my year of the Snow Goose. I kept my eyes on the ground as I left the house not looking for the Magpie chocking from across the road. An uneventful drive with a bit of snow and I refused to identify the many Corvids on my route. Probably a Rook but could have been a Crow. Probably a Jackdaw but it could have been a tiny Crow with a grey head… honestly! Probably a Magpie but it could have been a jackdaw that had a battle with Tipp-Ex before growing some extra tail feathers out of shock.

And there they were. Loads of Greylag and Pink Footed Geese with one White Beauty in the middle. A glorious Snow Goose.

It should have been with the Pink Feet if it wanted me to take it seriously as a proper natural bird but it was keeping rather poorer company with the Greylags. I checked for black in the wingtips which was present which confirm this as a legit pale morph Snow Goose rather than the more common farmyard white Greylag. Still after my incident with the albino gull you can’t be too careful.

I am now only 15 minutes from Loch Lomond so I decide to carry on for the Mandarin Ducks at Balloch. The males are stunning but I actually prefer the more understated females with their beautiful eye stripe. I add Goldeneye, Mute Swan, Black-Headed Gull to my growing year list for 2023.

I head down to the south side of the Forth and Kinneil Lagoons. It is approaching high tide and the Godwits are up. Mostly Black-Tailed but I do see a few Bar-Tailed as well. Their swirling patterns are mesmerising as is the gentle roar of their wings when they fly overhead.

Lots of Teal are around too and I add these to my year list. Along with a scoped only view of a Greenshank and several Wigeon.

Continuing to the pools themselves and more Godwit, along with some Redshank, working the mud.

I decide to try some more arty shots and deliberately over expose the Godwits to create some higher key images.

Turning it up even further so the water almost disappears and it looks like the Godwits are on white paper. I like this one the best.

Heading back to the car and a frozen pond is being inspected by two species of Wagtail. A solitary Grey is accompanied by a few Pied cousins.

Heading back towards home I decide to pop into Skinflints too. As I get out the car Fieldfare are chatting away in the nearby tree. There are a lot in the area now.

At the reeds there must be two dozen Reed Bunting around, most in winter plumage but one male still has an impressive black head.