Today would be spent exploring the forests and valley's close to our base in Speyside. Initially, it was quiet with just a brief view of Crested Tit but plenty of time to admire the stunning scenery and lichens.
Heading off to an isolated valley we set up to scan for raptors, but initially only had Common Buzzards and a few Redpoll, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush until Ashley spotted a small raptor - Merlin! It circled over the moor for a while before perching and showing its distinctive silhouette. We were assisted in our scanning by one of the friendly locals.
Our patience was rewarded as Ashley's remarkable ears picked up the call of a Goshawk and he found it perched on a small pine tree. A large female bird with the yellow feet clearly visible it stayed there for a good half an hour giving amazing views through the scopes. The first time I have ever seen one perched. When it left, it dropped down into the trees and out of sight. It was at least 300 yards distant, so the picture below does not really do it justice. A truly magical moment!
Our next stop was in woodland near to Nethybridge where there were some feeders. A Red Squirrel had just left them and we had good views of it as it disappeared into the forest leaping across the path from one tree to another. Then Crested Tits were heard and we had two come to use the feeders. I normally hate taking pictures of birds on feeders, but in this case made an exception.
Next we had a lunch stop in a small valley along The Station Road. Again scanning we had a couple more Golden Eagles and then a superb adult White-tailed Eagles, which really lived up to its description! Three flyover Crossbills were also added. Another try for Dipper at Carrbridge was partly successful as I and one other saw one. Thankfully we stopped later at Dulnaine Bridge and the whole group managed to get views of one in the middle of the river. We had one final attempt at finding Crossbills and had a few calls and brief views, but they were certainly our bogey bird along with Ptarmigan. One the way back, an inquisitive Roe Deer to add to the list.
A full Scottish breakfast was needed for our final day - a trip to the West coast so a long two and a half hour journey. A roadside Loch looked promising, and once again we spotted a pair of beautiful Black-throated Divers and had singing Redwing, fly over Raven and good views of Merlin.
Scanning Loch Carron we had two more distant Golden Eagles, Goldeneye, Slavonian Grebe and Red Breasted Mergansers.
I was glad I wasn't driving as we then headed up The Pass of the Cattle to Bealach na Ba. The glorious weather changed at the top and we postponed the plan of climbing to the top to look for Ptarmigan. By the time we descended into Applecross the weather was beautiful and a couple of Greenshank were a bonus.
The Hooded Crows really are attractive birds!
Applecross is an idyllic settlement with views across to the Isle of Skye and beyond.
A quiet spot for lunch and watching the Common Seals.
There were two Great Northern Divers in the Bay including a full Summer plumaged adult, and this one much closer in.
It was then back up to Bealach na Ba to look for Ptarmigan. Despite an intensive search we again drew a blank and had to be content with some stunning views and I will finish with a few people shots as we had a great group and tour guide.
A really brilliant birding trip and huge thanks to all involved at Oriole Birding.