Scotland in Style Jun 01—09, 2007

Posted by Andrew Whittaker

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Andrew Whittaker

Andrew Whittaker was born in England but considers himself to be Brazilian, having moved to this biodiverse country in 1987 to work for the Smithsonian Institution, banding...

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What more can one ask for than dramatic Scottish highland scenery, great birding, exploring several stupendous historical castles, and visiting the fine Scots whisky distillery of Glenmorangie where we sampled a wee dram! Combine this with a fantastic group of people based in a wonderful Scottish country home where we were treated to great British food (we all gained a few kilos) and family hospitality. All set in magnificent forested grounds; really, life cannot get much better!

Birding highlights were many. However, I know none of us will ever forget the wonderful mothering antics adopted by a female Rock Ptarmigan to divert some walkers. With a little help from me?first my shouts to the photographer, and then detailed explanations to the nice walkers about exactly what they should do?Mrs. Ptarmigan saved her precious little balls of fluff from a certain untimely trampling to death! First she courageously attacked the human (giants!) feet, and then followed up with a tremendous broken wing display which finally worked, luring the walkers an amazing 150 m. closer to us and away from her 2-day-old chicks. I could almost hear the sighs of relief from the crowd of onlookers as she immediately flew back to join her young!

In fact several of the trip highlights were what we termed "Bambie" moments. There was the Common Sandpiper who led her bobbing fluff balls (just hatched) down to the lake's edge, and the two baby lambs (bodyguards) of the brooding Eurasian Oystercatcher. Others included spectacular studies of both soaring White-tailed and Golden eagles, as well as scope studies of the White-tailed feasting on a dead lamb. Bubbly crystal-clear mountain streams produced stunning Gray Wagtails and the magical White-throated Dipper, while mirror-flat lochs, surrounded by breathtaking mountains, rewarded us with great studies of majestic Red-throated and Arctic loons. Smaller lakes treated us to handsome Horned Grebes, male Eurasian Wigeon, and Common Goldeneye.

A lone Common Snipe amazed even Ray as it was spotted uncharacteristically singing from the top of a tree! We enjoyed stunning scope views of this recent split from Wilson's Snipe. Walks through the wonderful Caledonian Pine forest rewarded us with Black Grouse, Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, Eurasian Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and flocks of enigmatic tits including Crested, Long-tailed, Blue, Coal, and Great. Spectacular moorlands scenery throughout also provided us with Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse), a great study of a pair of cooperative Ring Ouzels, and in-your-face looks at a Short-eared Owl.

Fond childhood birding memories flooded back to me as I heard the pleasant rambling song, "a little bit of bread and no cheese," gracing the hedgerows, allowing us to locate a stunning male Yellowhammer, while European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch, and Eurasian Linnet also landed close by to vie for our attention.

We also dove into the wealth of Scottish history with visits to Cawdor Castle (linked with Macbeth and Shakespeare) and the medieval fortress of Urquhurt Castle, situated on the banks of the famous Loch Ness where many English and Scots' lives were lost in bloody battles. No luck with spotting Nessie though! We marveled at how the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland had lived since the thirteenth century in the exquisite Dunrobin Castle, as well as the castle's fine ornate gardens which contain a giant redwood!

Altogether a fantastic group enjoyed a superb Scottish experience. I'm already looking forward to my return next year.