Black Isle Foray

Published: 16th February 2015

A lovely male yellow hammer, one of a large flock around the stubble fields.

A lovely male yellow hammer, one of a large flock around the stubble fields.

Across in the Black Isle last week to review some sites for our upcoming Glenloy Wildlife winter break. Started off well with a red kite just on the other side of the Kessock Bridge.  Had even better views at Munlochy, including one with what looked like rabbit road-kill, reluctant to fly off from a field.   Saw reasonable numbers, which just makes one think how the population might be faring if it was not continually persecuted here. Tide out at Munlochy Bay but still able to make out good numbers of shelduck and had fun trying to work out what other distant ducks and waders might be. An unmistakeable flock of pink-footed geese wheeled around several times before settling in a nearby field. We picked up goldeneye and a couple of long-tailed ducks at Avoch before heading out to Chanonry Point. Not a lot about unfortunately, and little sign of dolphins, but there was a nice flock of dunlins that was clinging to the last remaining patch of shingle, which was joined by a smaller number of turnstones. We continued up the coast to Cromarty, stopping on route to investigate the Fairy Glen. We picked up a ranged of woodland birds, including treecreeper, as well as some of the tamest dippers we have ever come across. These pretty much sat there, mocking our lack a of a functional camera battery! A flock of lapwing crying over a stubble field in the dusk finished the day off nicely.

The front at Cromarty yielded slightly less than hoped-for, but we did see a very handsome merganser, a few eider, mixed waders and a rock pipit. A walk around the headland was more productive, notable for small groups of bottlenose dolphins cruising just off-shore, periodically leaping and cavorting. There were also largish flocks of yellowhammers in the trees adjoining the stubble fields, as well as a brown hare crouching in the bracken. Later

Looking east towards the North Sea from Cromarty

Looking east towards the North Sea from Cromarty

in the afternoon we visited the hide at Udale Bay as the tide was coming in. Hundreds, if not thousands of wigeon, with plenty of other duck and large flocks of waders – mainly redshank, curlew and oystercatcher, but also ringed plover and turnstone. Impressive numbers of birds. Distant peregrine did not stop to hunt here, however. A trip around the other side of the firth eventually produced the elusive flock of scaup we were looking for, along with a nice bonus of three Slavonian grebes and more long-tailed ducks. The tide was well out at Nigg, but definitely worth a look with flocks of golden plover and lapwing on the mud flats, with tantalising glimpses of distant pintail and godwits. A stonechat by the car park rounded off the visit. Plenty to think about for our guests.

Back at home we had a walk up the top of Glen Loy for the first time since the snow disappeared. Pleased to see the golden eagle. It flew across the hillside very quickly then returned to where it started and began to gain more and more height. We hoped it was going to plunge dive but it continued rising and eventually disappeared into the clouds.