A very early pre breakfast start this morning and the weather was cold but clear as we left our base in Boat of Garten for a shortish drive to a known Black Grouse lek.
We had the place to ourselves and made sure we stayed a good distance away so as not to disturb the birds. These pictures were taken with a very long lens! Nine male birds were present, but another two joined later and it was fascinating to see and hear them jostle, with occasional half hearted fights. The females stayed well hidden.
I even managed to remember to take a bit of video footage before we headed off.
On the way back we stopped at Carrbridge to look for Dippers but sadly dipped. I did however take a couple of arty shots before we headed back for a well deserved breakfast.
Next stop was Cairngorm to look for Ptarmigan. A Raven was seen from the car park as we took the railway to the top and heard a Snow Bunting fly over. It was incredibly busy and despite a couple of hours or so of scanning we drew a blank and headed down for a coffee and short forest walk.
As the weather was good we headed inland up the Findhorn Valley to look for Eagles. Again, the birding Gods were against us and we managed just a few Sand Martins, Curlew, Oystercatchers and Common Buzzards. Taking the Farr Road, our luck started to change as we saw our first brief view of a Wheatear.
Closely followed by a pair of Red Grouse. I managed to get a shot of the female from the minibus.
Then huge excitement as Ashley spotted a superb male Hen Harrier which initially dipped out of view before reappearing close by, giving amazing views. By the time we had exited the van, it was off over the moorside and I only managed a very distant record shot.
Still in a daze we headed to RSPB Loch Ruthven, a stronghold for Slavonian Grebes. As we walked to the hide Goldeneye were spotted and a pair of fairly distant Red-breasted Mergansers.
From the hide we spotted a Slavonian Grebe distantly and after a short while it headed towards us into a small bay giving much better views. I have only seen them before in their drab Winter plumage, but in Spring they are superb with the golden ear tufts.
A truly fabulous day, and the following day saw us head out to a Loch where Black-throated Divers were known to breed. The moorland also held Red Grouse and Meadow Pipit.
A pair of Black-throated Divers were located at the narrower end of the Loch and gave us great views, disappearing for a while, but thankfully coming out again. What an absolutely stunning bird!
As we were watching them a skein of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead.
It was then up to the Moray estuary with a stop at Findhorn and more Eider Ducks.
We didn't need to stray far from the van to view a couple of Sandwich terns!
The next stop was Roseisle and after passing through a field full of Curlews we set up for some sea watching. Everything was very distant here but we picked out a couple of Bottle Nosed Dolphins, Razorbills, Slavonian Grebe, Long Tailed Ducks and Gannets. The highlights though were all three Scoter species including two male and one female Surf Scoter. And even better, two White-billed Divers. We then made the short trip to Burghead for lunch and picked out Razorbills and more Eider.
It also helps when you have an expert sea watcher!
Waders here included a few Turnstone, Redshank and Ringed Plover.
I do like a good Gull and could not resist this smart Herring Gull and 2W Great Black-backed Gull.
A few Rock Pipits were visible, including this rather confiding one.
And finally here, a smart male Wheatear.
Our final coastal stop was Lossiemouth where we just missed an Osprey catching a flatfish! This also had the effect of scaring off most of the Gulls.
Wigeon and Teal were close in.
A Kittiwake came in to loaf with the other Gulls, a small flock of Dunlin were on the opposite shore and one Bar-tailed Godwit was present.
A final stop at Loch Spynie gave us Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow near the feeders.
Overlooking the Loch we had a few Sand Martins and a single Swallow as well as Goosander and a pair of Goldeneye that gave great views.
The end of another great days birding.