Scotland in Style May 07—16, 2015

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; a constant flush of spring greens and vibrant flowers; exploring a wealth of interesting historical sites (castles, stately homes, and battlefields); and visiting one of the world’s finest Scots whisky distilleries to sample a wee dram—what more can one ask for! All of this was combined with a wonderful group of people based in a superb historic (birding) hotel, being treated like kings, with superb meals (we all certainly gained a little weight) and marvelous hospitality.

Crested Tit

Crested Tit— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

 

Blessed with wonderful spring weather throughout, our birding highlights were many: stunning close-up views of a male King Eider (a rare vagrant) in all its glory, even getting the hots for a female Common Eider and displaying; and a male Rock Ptarmigan fighting and almost flying into the fenicular coach on the Cairngorms Mountains! Other memorable moments were marvelous soaring Red Kites and, of course, the scope views of the odd ritual of dazzling male Black Grouse displaying at the lek. Other interesting behavioral observations were termed “Bambie” moments, like the tiny baby Northern Lapwing and Red Grouse chicks we helped safely across the road as they crossed in front of us, and, of course, all those cute playful tiny lambs!

Bubbly, crystal-clear mountain streams produced stunning studies of Gray Wagtails, displaying Common Sandpiper, and the enigmatic White-throated Dipper feeding young. Mirror-image lochs, surrounded by pristine Caledonian Pine forest, rewarded us with super looks at daytime Tawny Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Goldfinch, Tree Pipit, tiny Goldcrest, and flocks of enigmatic tits including Long-tailed, Blue, Coal, and Great.

Rock Ptarmigan

Rock Ptarmigan— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

 

With a backdrop of stupendous mountain scenery, the spectacular moorlands and rich deciduous forested valleys rewarded us with a great male Ring Ouzel; excellent views of Common Cuckoo; European Stonechat; hoards of Northern Wheatears; Eurasian Curlew; Northern Lapwing; Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse a good split); Red-legged Partridge; Wood Warbler; and Yellowhammer. 

We also explored the wealth of Scottish history, visiting the historical sites of Cawdor Castle (linked with Macbeth and Shakespeare) and its stunning gardens; the lovely, secluded Urquhart Castle where we missed seeing the famous nessy as we scanned Loch Ness, and the famous and stark Cullodon Battlefield (with that never to forget vivid panoramic video) where many English and Scottish lives were lost in a bloody battle.

White-throated Dipper

White-throated Dipper— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

 

 

 

 

 

 

In stark contrast, towering granite sea cliffs on the east coast and secluded sandy inlets provided us with a spectacle of countless thousands of breeding seabirds, including the enigmatic Razorbill, Common Murre, Black-legged Kittiwake, Little and Sandwich terns, Northern Fulmar, Rock Pipit, stunning Common Eiders displaying, and magnificent Northern Gannets offshore.

Countless lochs and rich coastal flats rewarded us with large flocks of migrant Pink-footed Geese, Common Shelduck, smart breeding plumaged Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated and Arctic loons, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser,  lovely close-up Redshank, Reed Bunting, and both Little and Horned grebes, both in stunning full breeding plumage.

King Eider displaying

King Eider displaying— 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, of course, the incredible male King Eider, followed closely by the Dotterel (scouting early last morning), but also observing the roding Woodcock at dusk.

Our trip mammal highlights included herds of Red Deer and incredible close-up studies of the poorly-known nocturnal Pine Martin and the strikingly smart-looking European Badger family.  

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