Travelling by coach rather than the usual convoy of private cars the first venue was Martin Mere in Lancashire,winter home to lots of whooper swans,many other wild fowl and waders can be found here including pink footed geese,pintail,wigeon and ruff.
The first night was spent in Kendal at the Premier Inn,a few of us ventured in to town to sample the local hostelries..
Next morning we headed north and were crossing the Forth Road Bridge in good time,stopping for lunch at Loch Leven/Vane Farm reserve where there were raven,curlew, goldeneye,more pink feet,goosander,siskin and tree sparrows and a wallcreeper!
Grantown on Spey was our base for the next five days,staying in relative luxury at the Grant Arms hotel.
The party was split into three groups of 12 for the trips into the Cairngorms,and to the coast and evening visits to the pine marten centre.
Group A went first to the Cairngorms where we were led to the summit by Martin and John,it was a superb day weatherwise,sunny warm and calm,which made for an exhillerating experience,with views across to Ben Nevis 60 miles away.
ICE BOUND WEATHER STATION
Loch Garten was visited on the way back where we had our first sightings of Crested Tit.
Thursday was our turn for the coast at Burghead and Port Knockie on the Moray Firth,where Long Tailed Duck was the star followed by Eider,Shag,divers,scoters,Bottle nosed Dolpins,and a Black Guillemot made a very late entrance just before we had to leave.
BOTTLE NOSED DOLPHINS
Friday morning was spent at Loch Garten,where the ladies took great delight in having coal tits eating out of their hands,crested tits,great and blue tits and chaffinches fed voraciously on a diet of peanut butter,the Red Squirrels also were a delight to watch.Strangely not a single crossbill was seen all week.
CRESTED TIT AT LOCH GARTEN
The Spey was flowing swiftly south of the town ,15 whooper swans were on the river as we arrived but took flight over our heads soon after,a pair of Dippers were on territory between the two bridges,treecreeper and more crested tits were seen in the Anagach Forest and red squirrels were at the feeders.
Friday evening was group As turn to visit the Pine Marten centre near Aviemore,the others had not had much luck so I was not holding my breath,however within minutes of arriving in the hide 4 red deer came in to feed on the peanuts followed by 3 badgers and a wood mouse.The CCTV monitors then picked up two bright eyes bounding towards us the Pine Marten cometh.It fed at first in the front of the hide until spooked by a badger,it then went round the back to the feeding table,where it stayed for about five minutes,then it was off as quickly as it arrived,another successful outing for the A TEAM.
At first light on Saturday morning 8 of us were taken to Tulloch Moor to see Black Grouse.Dave Slater our guide soon spotted a male bird lurking in the undergrowth some distance off,difficult to view,luckily this bird and another male took to the air and landed in tree tops where although still distant provided good scope views.
After breakfast our tour moved on to the Findhorn valley where we hoped to see golden eagle,but had no luck although they were seen after we had left,however mountain hares were spotted on the scree slopes at the head of the valley.
Back to the Spey in the afternoon where the dippers were still patrolling back and forth,one seen carrying nest material to a small hole in the old bridge arch,and a grey wagtail was added to the trip list.Martin Shepherd even found time to help an angler land a salmon after his line became entangled in a tree,what a hero.
One last early walk down by the golf course failed to find the capercaille,so it was back to breakfast and then the journey home via Vane Farm,Kendal and a quick visit to Leighton Moss,a thankfully uneventful journey home many thanks to Dave Gillie,a very good driver, and a huge thankyou to Mike Briggs once again for a great piece of logistics and for including me in the A Team.