Scotland in Style May 08—17, 2014

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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Breathtaking Scottish highland scenery, superb birding, the constant flush of spring greens and vibrant flowers, a wealth of historical sites (castles, stately homes, and battlefields), and a visit to one of the world’s finest Scots whisky distilleries to sample a wee dram—what more can one ask for? Combine all this with a wonderful group of people based in a superb historic hotel where we were treated like kings, with superb meals (we all certainly gained a little weight) and marvelous hospitality, and really, life can’t get much better!

Crested Tit

Crested Tit— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

We were blessed with wonderful spring weather throughout our trip. The birding highlights were many; I’m sure that none of us will ever forget our stunning daytime views of Eurasian Woodcock feeding (thanks to Karen’s amazing spotting)! Some other particularly memorable observations were that Crested Tit bringing food to the nest and scope views of dazzling male Black Grouse displaying at the lek. Other great moments were marvelous soaring Red Kites and the Common Snipe singing on a telegraph pole after tape-playback! Other interesting behavioral observations were what I call “Bambie moments,” such as the female pheasant who led her 12 recently hatched chicks safely across the road in front of our vans, and, of course, all those cute playful lambs.
 
Bubbly crystal-clear mountain streams produced stunning studies of Gray Wagtails and the enigmatic White-throated Dipper feeding its young. Mirror-image lochs, surrounded by  pristine Caledonian Pine forest, rewarded us with super looks at daytime Tawny Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Redstart, Red Crossbill, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Goldfinch, Tree Pipit, the tiny Goldcrest, and flocks of enigmatic tits including Long-tailed, Blue, Coal, and Great.

White-throated Dipper

White-throated Dipper— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Stupendous mountain scenery throughout was not without its birds either. The spectacular moorlands and rich, deciduous forested valleys rewarded us with both White-tailed and Golden eagles; the stunning male Ring Ouzel; excellent views of Common Cuckoo; European Stonechat; Whinchat; Northern Wheatear; Eurasian Curlew; Northern Lapwing; Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse a good split); Red-legged Partridge; Wood Warbler; and Yellowhammer. In stark contrast, towering granite sea cliffs on the east coast provided us with a spectacle of countless thousands of breeding seabirds including the enigmatic Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Common Murre, Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Fulmar, Rock Pipit, and stunning Common Eiders and Northern Gannets offshore.

Countless lochs  and rich coastal flats rewarded us with Pink-footed Geese, Common Shelduck, breeding plumaged Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated and Arctic loons, Common Goldeneye, Reed Bunting, and both Little and Horned grebes, both in full breeding plumage.

Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

For me, however, bonny Scotland brought back many fond childhood birding memories from the UK during this great tour. My highlight was the Woodcock (so rare to see in the daytime), as well as observing one roding at dusk. This was closely followed by the unusual antics of a group of male Black Grouse at their lek.
 
We also explored the wealth of Scottish history, visiting the historical sites of Cawdor Castle (linked with Macbeth and Shakespeare), lovely secluded Balmoral Castle, and the famous Culloden Battlefield where many English and Scottish lives were lost in a bloody battle.

Mammal highlights included incredible close-up studies of the poorly-known nocturnal Pine Martin and the striking European Badger.

Our fantastic group enjoyed a truly superb Scottish experience. I’m already looking forward to our return next year! Thank you for traveling with us. I hope to see you all again in the future on another exciting VENT trip.