Friday, 1 March 2013

Scotland, 8th February

After a contrastingly pleasant and smooth crossing back to Aberdeen, we made a return visit to Rattray Head.  I was immediately distracted by a stonking drake Eider sitting just offshore.  Other birds included Long-tailed Duck and Red-throated Diver.

Whilst I was drawing, John had pinned down the long-staying Desert Wheatear.  Even though it was a female, still such a stunning bird, and feeding actively.

Several nearby squalls threatened to drench us, but thankfully we were spared.

I penned down some rushed lines of the wheatear, although I felt I had enough to work into some decent sketches later:

Later we headed off bound for the mountains again, in another bid for Ptarmigan for John's February list.  We were passing through Banchory and I had my shades on against the bright sunshine when I noticed three birds sail down to some shrubbery.  I suggested to John that I thought they were Waxwings, could we go back and have a look.  When we turned round and stopped I could see a nice cotoneaster bush covered in berries but no birds.  As soon as I opened the car door I could hear Waxwings trilling high above me in one of the ancient tall lichen-clad trees overlooking the road!  A breathtaking sight and sound - there were seven of them.  By the time John had parked some had already descended to the bush and were scoffing berries.  Then suddenly John noted one with a colour ring which I noticed too.  This revealed that it had been colour-ringed some 3 months earlier at Bridge of Don on the north side of Aberdeen, and this was its first foray away from there. 
Alas we had to tear ourselves away and onward to Braemar, and then to Glen Shee.  We'd already had a good weather forecast for the day so were pleased to be able to make it up to the pass, the Spittal of Glen Shee.  We had not bargained for huge numbers of skiers present enjoying the winter wonderland - 100-200 cars were parked at the ski lift car parks at the pass.  There was a bitter northerly breeze blowing and the wind chill made it feel a lot colder than it really was.  We managed a small flock of Snow Bunting by the car park, and several Ravens.  We made our way through fairly soft snow on the east side of the road, climbing all the time.  Most of the area was burnt heather which helped you get a grip on the snow.  However I was soon stuggling as my boots were not gripping on some areas of slope.  This was in slightly south-facing areas where the sun had caught in the day time, melted and then re-frozen at night.  Pretty soon I was finding the going rather treacherous, and was regretting not having the presence of mind to bring some spiked 'crampons' with me - bought in Aldi for £2.99, essential winter gear for traversing icy pavements in Thetford!  Soon I was forced to stop walking, so I stayed put on a ridgetop with my scope and tripod and scanned the hillside in the hope of picking out a winter-plumaged Ptarmigan.  Alas I did not see any, and nor did John.  Despite plenty of searching and scanning the best we managed were a few more Red Grouse, Ravens and a distant Peregrine.  Best of all for me were the numerous stunning winter-coated Mountain Hares.  I could have spent days watching these creatures - how amazing they loom against the winter snows.  Many others have been and painted these creatures, I need to have a good go some day, it is a winter trip I need to make at some point in my life.  It's been a good few years since I ventured to Scotland proper, and it was nicve to be back.  Last time I was doing some moorland bird survey work based in Braemar I found a singing male Lapland Bunting on a nearby hilltop.  So, sadly the lack of time prevented any good paintings, and I've a handful of photos with the Canon Ixus compact camera...

Note the solitary figure scanning the hillside.  This could be Tibet but it's isn't.  Good impression of the scale of the landscape

When John returned, we made our way back down the mountain, and the safest way down was to sit and slide down on my backside on icy slopes that were too steep to walk down.  Quite fun, next time I'll have to bring a sledge or skis!

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