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Natural Connections

Modern life in Scotland is increasingly busy. The connections our ancestors had with nature and the land are being lost. As leisure time shrinks, or is filled with hi-tech experiences, opportunities to experience nature become fewer. And yet it is possible to connect with nature on a day to day basis. All around us, the great web of life continues to hold its shape, and nature continues its eternal cycles. Keep looking, listening, smelling, touching - and keep experiencing natural connections.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lots of activity on the Loch Garten webcam this morning with the resident pair nest building and mating on the nest platform. Birds heard in the background included Pheasant, Black-headed Gull, Robin and Siskin. What sounded like Tree Pipit song was presumably coming from a Meadow Pipit at this time of the year.
News from Loch of the Lowes is that the veteran female, "Lady" has arrived back for yet another year.
An annual leave day meant a walk was in order so set off for Armore Point late morning (hoping for newly arrived Wheatears). The tide was really high, which possibly explained the relative lack of birds around. However a bit of searching produced Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Goldeneye, Black Guillemot and a single Red-throated Diver (in transitional plumage) offshore. Landbirds were fairly unremarkable but included a good number of Greenfinches (quite unusual these days).
A quick detour on the way home produced a nice range of wildfowl on the River Leven at Balloch. 



Sunday, March 30, 2014

News from the web is that the regular Osprey pair at Loch Garten are back on site. Hopefully having the two birds return almost simultaneously this year will prevent the false starts (and occasional breeding failures) that have beset this pair over recent years.
Bird list for yesterdays trip to Badenoch was:
Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose. Canada Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Domestic Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Goosander, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, Red-throated Diver, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Wren, Starling, Dipper, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Goldfinch and Siskin (53 species)

Impressions of Strathspey in late March (in what has been a mild spring so far):
- Its still fairly colourless. I think I saw a single, early Dandelion flower. No Coltsfoot or Lesser Celandine, although I may have been looking in the wrong places.
- Its getting noisier, with Chaffinch the main singer (no Willow Warblers yet, of course), but Coal Tit, Great Tit, Wren, Robin, Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Goldcrest and Blue Tit providing the backing, in roughly that order.
- There are plenty of signs of breeding activity including Rooks at their colonies, Long tailed Tits nest-building, Greylag Geese and other wildfowl pairing off and Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Curlews and Lapwings fighting over territories.
- There is quite a lot of coming and going, with Greylags particularly noticeable. Pairs flying back and forth are presumably looking for territories, but larger groups could be moving through or out of the area. 
-There is still much building up of reserves going on with Whooper Swans feeding out on the marshes and Fieldfares in the birch woods. 
-There is water everywhere (in spite of the dry weather of late) with rivers full (had to paddle through the Dunachton Burn) and marshes looking pretty soggy.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The second visit to Strathspey this month took place on a mild, sunny and windless day. The route chosen (see here) was from Kingussie to Kincraig and back, the outward leg via RSPB Insh Marshes, the inward one via the north shore of Loch Insh.
The walk out of Kingussie produced a single Dipper (on the Gynack Burn) and a single Grey Wagtail on the Spey. A pair of Goldeneye (the male displaying to the female) were also on the Spey. Birds in the general area included Oystercatchers and Curlews, both making a lot of noise as they presumably sorted out breeding territories. The first of around five singing Song Thrushes for the day was near the shinty ground Another bird that was to prove common throughout the day was Woodpigeon.
Heading up the hill towards Ruthven, five Pied Wagtails were on the grass bank (with a Meadow Pipit nearby), 20 Jackdaws were swirling around the barracks and four Redpolls flew high overhead. The marsh beyond the Barracks was alive with birds including Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Redshank, Oytercatcher, Lapwing and Grey Heron. The "Lookout" didn't add any new species but a group of Birch trees to the east of there held around 30 finches, consisting of Goldfinches, Siskins and Redpolls. 
The walk around to Loch Insh was accompanied by the song of Chaffinches and Coal Tits. As usual, the bird count increased as the villages were reached. Insh, in common with most of the other villages, had singing Greenfinches and hedges full of House Sparrows. A  patch of open Birch woodland near Old Milton held 20+ very nervous Fieldfares plus a singing Song Thrush and two Red-legged Partridges. Two Rooks were ransacking the garden feeders at Farr.



Arriving at Loch Insh, almost the first birds to show were a pair of Red-throated Divers. They did some half-hearted diving and one caught a fish. However they mostly drifted leisurely across the loch, coming quite close to the shore on a couple of occasions. Other birds out on the loch consisted of Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Cormorant and Herring Gull. A pair of Long-tailed Tits were collecting nest material along the loch-side and two Domestic Mallards were at the chalet park.



The bridge at Kincraig produced more Goldeneye and a pair of Mute Swans (plus glorious views back down the loch). Kincraig itself had House Sparrows and Jackdaws, and the walk along the north shore of the loch produced more Pied Wagtails and the only Goosanders (a pair) of the day.



After a paddle through the Dunachton Burn, the rest of the walk back to Kingussie had to be done at a bit of a trot. However the highlights of this stretch including more singing Greenfinches, a whole suite of water birds on the marsh at Lynchat, Greylag Geese already on territory at the cemetery and two Domestic Mallards "doorstepping" in Kingussie. The final birds of the day were a pair of Starlings entering a nest hole under the canopy of Kingussie Railway Station.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A day off today, so was in place at a Stirlingshire Black Grouse lek well before dawn. Meadow Pipits were already calling and a Short-eared Owl drifted by. At 05:20, the first of four Blackcock appeared through the gloom. Five minutes later, the group had assembled and proceeded to display quite vigorously for the next hour. No Greyhens were seen, and the number present was disappointing, but the views were excellent. Owing to the calm weather, the birds' bubbling calls were especially clear.
Other birds in the area included Red Grouse, Pheasant, Raven, singing Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Curlew, and some overflying geese.
A quick stop at Balloch produced lots of good birds including excellent views of Goosander and Goldeneye plus Long tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Common Gull, Oystercatcher, Pied Wagtail, Moorhen, Muscovy Duck and a bickering pair of Great-spotted Woodpeckers. In the woods, a striking yellow plant was possibly an ornamental variety of Lords and Ladies gone wild [Correction: Skunk Cabbage].



















Weather looking hopeful for tomorrow...


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Quite a few reports of Green Woodpeckers have been appearing on the various yahoo-groups, grapevines and twitter feeds, especially from the Lothian area. Perhaps the last two mild winters have allowed the species to bounce back a little. There have even been a few yaffling birds on Strathspey, where the species had seemed to have all but disappeared.
Thirtreen Whooper Swans were between the motorway and the airport this afternoon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Numerous patches of flowering Coltsfoot added some welcome colour to the central reservation on the drive up the M77 this afternoon. Nice to see at least one Raven dwarfing the Jackdaws flying around Coats Memorial Church, Paisley.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Waiting for the alarm to go off just before 6 this morning, the mewing Collared Doves and singing Song Thrush in south Cardonald were joined by a Chiffchaff. It began by singing "Chaff-chiff, Chaff-chiff" but soon reverted to the "normal" song.
Heading out to work, a few Redpolls were buzzing in the treetops as they have done all winter. I can't remember them being around for anything like as long as this in past years.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A very frosty start, with a dusting of snow on many of the local bens.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some photos of the three sites visited yesterday: Muirhouse Muir, Lang Craigs and The River Leven:




Saturday, March 22, 2014

A very frosty start to the day was followed by a mixture of sunshine, rain and hail. Spent the morning and early afternoon touring some local sites. Visited the River Leven at Balloch first thing and was rewarded with nice views of the female Mandarin Duck that has been present there for at least the last few weeks. In the event, she was not difficult to find, her high-pitched calls making her the noisiest duck on the river. She was accompanying a small group of Mallards and alternated between a submissive posture (with body low in the water and bill submerged) and more aggressive behaviour including chasing the other ducks and displaying with crest and tail raised. A lovely bird to observe at close quarters (some phone pics below). Also present in the area were at least 11 Goosanders, two Muscovy Ducks and a singing Chiffchaff.




Next stop was the Overtoun Estate above Dumbarton, the target species being Green Woodpecker. Unfortunately, as on the last few occasions, none were seen or heard. Compensation was provided in the form of one pair each of Raven, Kestrel and Buzzard over the crags. Loch Bowie held seven more Goosanders plus a pair of Goldeneye and the usual Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Grey Heron etc. Meanwhile the horse field beside the main access road held 15 Meadow Pipits and five Pied Wagtails (two of the latter showing some of the features of White Wagtail).
The final stop of the day was the SWT reserve at Loch Ardinning. Birds on the Loch included Canada Goose, Goldeneye, Grey Heron and Cormorant (with at least two Pied Wagtails in the north east corner). A long walk on Muirhouse Muir produced lots of isolation and some wonderful views, but few birds (only Raven, Carrion Crow and Meadow Pipit).

Friday, March 21, 2014

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Common Gull pair in the west end of Greenock were absent from their tenement this lunchtime, but a Grey Wagtail called, unseen, from somewhere up on the rooftops. What might have been three terns were at the timber cages near Woodhall when I sped by at teatime.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

With the first of the summer migrants only just arrived, an Osprey was seen in Badenoch today (a bird catching a fish near Newtonmore). Central Paisley was quiet today, with absolutely no sign (or sound) of any Ravens.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Seven Goldeneye (two males and five females) were on Cowdenknowes reservoir. One of the drakes was displaying enthusiastically while the female was adopting a submissive posture, very low down in the water. I'm still not sure I have sorted out the plumage differences between adult female, first winter and eclipse male, but by this time of year, things are a bit simpler. Having said that, one of the males at Lochwinnoch last week was in transitional plumage.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Another Redpoll was over the garden during the afternoon. Uploaded this and all the other records for the past week to birdtrack. The full list is as follows:

Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Smew, Goosander, Red Grouse, Pheasant, Cormorant, Bittern, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Dunlin, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Skylark, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Treecreeper, Wren, Starling, Dipper, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, unidentified crossbill, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting (79 species).
Back to work tomorrow... :-(

Saturday, March 15, 2014

An early start by Linlithgow Loch found three pairs of Great-crested Grebes displaying in the west bay. Three Goldeneye flew in and a Greenfinch sang nearby. At Bo'mains Meadow, a Jay screeched from the windbreak between two fields where around 30 Redwings and at least one Fieldfare were commuting between the treetops and the stubble below*.
Birds along Bo-ness foreshore included around 100 Black-tailed Godwits (some moulting into their brick-red breeding plumage, around the same number of Dunlin and Redshank, plus smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers and Curlews. Shelduck and Teal added to the colourful scene on an otherwise grey day.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A quieter day today, with the only trip out being a walk along the river in Paisley. Always fascinated by the built landscape there, and the glimpses of the town's industrial past.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Mute Swan which appeared recently on the river at Cardonald was still present this afternoon. A quick check of last year's Raven breeding site at Leverndale Hospital found a nest in place but no sign of any adults. Twenty Redwings swept over the edge of Bull Wood, while a mixed flock of (mainly) Fieldfares and Redwings commuted between a stubble field at Cairnhill and trees across the river. A pair of Mallards were unusually on the channel feeding the "grotto" in Rosshall Park, where a Grey Heron was on the pond. Finally, a Pied Wagtail was giving its "Schwee-eep" call (which I always associate with springtime) at Rosshall School. Back home, the back garden pond contained at least six clumps of frogspawn and a large newt.

The full list of birds from Tuesday's trip to Strathspey was as follows:
Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Pheasant, Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Wren, Starling, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and unidentified crossbill [44 species].

Impressions of Strathspey in March:
Its noisy, in terms of birdsong, with Coal Tit and Chaffinch the main players, but Robin, Wren, Mistle Thrush,Great Tit, Blue Tit, Starling, Goldrest etc also contributing. Presumably the mild and sunny conditions were responsible. Only one Song Thrush was heard.
Its quiet, in terms of people, with NO-ONE seen between Carrbridge and Kinveachy, and then only two people between there and Granish Farm.
The first inland waders are back on the low ground, with a few Oystercatchers penetrating into the glens.
No tit flocks encountered, so presumably they are disbanding. 
Whooper Swans not showing any signs of leaving, and Greylag Geese not splitting into pairs yet. 
Black-headed Gulls still notable by their absence (perhaps they were all at Loch Insh).
The vegetation is still very brown with little greenery coming through.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Trip to Eroll, Scone and Kinnordy today. Highlights were two singing Chiffchaffs (my first of the year) and fantastic views of a feeding Bittern. Lowlight was failing to find any Hawfinches at Scone. Report to follow.
Birds at Errol were: Mute Swan, Teal, Mallard, Tufted  Duck, Goldeneye, Pheasant, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Buzzard, Coot, Lapwing, Curlew, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Skylark, Chiffchaff, Wren, Starling, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting (39 species).
Birds at Scone were:
Birds at Kinnordy were: Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Smew, Goosander, Cormorant, Bittern, Grey Heron, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Snipe, Redshank and Black-headed Gull.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The good weather that had been forecast for today was too good to miss, so hurried arrangements were made for a day’s walking in Strathspey.
The train journey north was notable for returning Oystercatchers at several sites from Balinluig northwards. The climb up to Drumochter is usually good for raptors and today was no exception, a Buzzard lumbering over with what looked like a snake (an Adder would be the only possibility) dangling from its talons. Further north again, a Red Grouse was flushed near Dalwhinnie and pairs of Lapwings started to appear, especially between Newtonmore and Kingussie. Small parties of Whooper Swans were also present in that area. Today's starting point was Carrbridge, which allowed some extra sites to be checked from the train, albeit briefly. These included Loch nan Carriagean (which held two Goldeneye) and Lochan Ban (two Tufted Ducks).
The walk west from Carrbridge  was characterised, as was the whole day, by the song of two species: Coal Tit and Chaffinch (with Robin, Wren and Dunnock also chipping in). Slightly less usual species included Pied Wagtail, Mistle Thrush (one bird seen carrying nest material) and Starling. Two sizeable flocks of Woodpigeons were feeding on a cattle field and a Great-spotted Woodpecker was drumming from a stand of conifers. Nearby, the first of four Crested Tits for the day was seen. Viewing the scene from an elevated position allowed fantastic views of a Roe buck and doe carefully crossing the river.
A detour to the Sluggain Bridge produced another Pied Wagtail, more Mistle Thrushes, two Oystercatchers, a Redpoll, a Buzzard and two displaying Kestrels. Heading into the conifer plantations, the commoner songbirds continued to dominate. However a Raven croaked high overhead and both Crested Tit and Goldcrest were heard and seen briefly. Meanwhile, eleven Red Deer fed quietly in the vegetation under a line of pylons.
Descending to the A9, and then the A95 produced some other species including two Mallards on a roadside lochan. Boat of Garten Woods produced another Great-spotted Woodpecker and the only crossbill sp of the day (a single bird flying over). Loch nan Carriagean held only six Mallards but a Grey Wagtail flew over nearby.
Granish landfill site had its usual complement of gulls and corvids. Numbers were difficult to estimate but at least 300 Jackdaws were present with a smaller number of Rooks and relatively few Carrion Crows.  Gulls were dominated by Herring Gull with small numbers of Common Gull, a single Great Black-backed Gull but interestingly no Lesser Black-backed or Black-headed Gulls. Granish Farm held two pairs of Oystercatchers and dozens of Rabbits. Other regular sites also producing Rabbits today were the area around Kingussie and the lawn in front of the “Four Seasons” Hotel.
Heading into Aviemore, the usual village birds started to appear. More notable however were 16 Collared Doves in a single tree next to the war memorial and the only Greenfinches and Siskins of the day.
Heading south at the end of the day, the scattered Whooper Swans on the Insh Marshes were accompanied by small groups of Greylag Geese. However the best sighting of the journey, and indeed of the whole day, was a Golden Eagle seen soaring and “skydiving” over one of the hills along the River Garry.  
The species list for the day is still to be worked out, but the route taken is shown here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The day started in Greenock where two Common Gulls were fighting with two Lesser Black-backed Gulls for control of the building where they nested last year. The engagement was extremely noisy and vociferous with the Common Gulls repeatedly dive-bombing the lesser black-backs and screaming loudly.
Next stop was Muirshiel Regional Park. Two Buzzards were soaring over the access road to the main visitor centre. Around the car park were singing Coal Tit, Song Thrush and Wren. Two Dippers were courting on the burn, the female being particularly animated as she solicited food from her rather disinterested mate. Birdlife on the road to the Barytes Mine was scant, but at least three Ravens were in the area (one calling from a pylon and the other two having a territorial dispute overhead. Three Sylarks and two Meadow Pipits were disturbed from the heather. Two of the Skylarks immediately started song-flighting, my first proper song of the year (after hesitant sub-song at Arkleston last week). Back at the visitor centre, Muirshiel Pond held masses of frogspawn.
The final stop of the day was RSPB Lochwinnoch where the drake Smew was showing well with a supporting cast of Whooper Swan, Goldeneye, Goosander and Great crested Grebe.
News from South Cardonald is that Collared Dove, Chaffinch and Great Tit were all singing first thing, Redpolls continue to buzz in the treetops (as they have done for the past week or more) and there are now three clumps of frogspawn in the pond.
More adventures tomorrow....

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The first frogspawn of the year appeared in the garden pond first thing this morning.
A walk along the river produced two Stock Doves feeding at the water's edge just east of Hawkhead, a Grey Heron and 50+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls in a ploughed field, a Treecreeper beside the path, a Mallard on floods at Leverndale and a Grey Wagtail under Howford Bridge.
Just down from Cardonald Place Farm, a Mute Swan was, I think, my first record in seven years of watching the area (even Whooper Swan got onto my home patch list first). The full list for the 1km square around my house is now:

Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Goosander, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Woodcock, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Tawny Owl, Swift, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow, Raven, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Swallow, House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Waxwing, Treecreeper, Wren, Starling, Dipper, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Pied/White Wagtail, Pied Wagtail (yarrellii), Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Redpoll (Common/Lesser) and Bullfinch (70 species).
Also along the river was a patch of naturalised Daffodils.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Four frogs in the pond. Blizzards for part of the day, but dry now.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Three or four Frogs in the pond this morning.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Wet, wet, wet in Paisley today. All quiet around the garden pond. News from the web is of the first Sand Martins, Wheatears and Ospreys back in the south of England.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Lying in bed, first thing, a gaggle of geese (Canadas or Greylags - not Pinkfeet) passed overhead.
Milder today, but still no frogspawn. The first clump has tended to arrive around the first week of March in most years since the pond was created, although in 2012 it was 21st February.

Monday, March 03, 2014

A frosty start to the day found at least two frogs in the back garden pond, hopefully safe from marauding cats under the netting set up over the weekend. At Greenock, the first Lesser Black-backed Gulls were back on the rooftops (they appeared en masse in Cardonald over the weekend).
Heading down to Ayr, the Arran hills were topped with snow, as were the Galloway hills, a broad sweep of which were visible from the A78 near Troon. All the usual roadside birds (Buzzard, Grey Heron etc) were present on the run home. A delay due to roadworks at Hansel Village was brightened up by pairs of Rooks attending nests there.