Ian says …. Last week David, Dave P and Neil had a ride round to Glen Shee but we had backed out so today it was our turn. It was an early start so we thought it was worth checking Dorback, an area that we hadn’t looked at before and was reported to have Black Grouse. Up to the turning area of the dead-end road and no luck but on the way back we spotted Grouse in the distance – on the drive up they had been hidden from us by the uneven ground. I could count 8 birds present but at over 100yards on such uneven ground there could have been more. Getting back onto the main route we could soon see Mountain Hares on the hill sides but way too far for the cameras .After passing through Tomintoul we saw 3 more areas with Black Grouse. The first had just 3 birds but reasonably close to the road they gave us the opportunity to get a few shots. The next area had 4 birds present, again they were well away from the road so no chance with the camera. The last area, north of Balmoral, had just 2 birds – not displaying - so maybe not a lecking area. One of the birds was 10 yards max from the road but looking in to the sun and the fact that a car was coming the opposite way and the camera not handy resulted in no pics.
We reached Glen Shee to find the first carpark almost full – there were skiers and snowboarders everywhere. We drove to the furthest carpark and after a quick brew I set off up the southern edge of the Cairnwell. It was very slow progress with areas of deep soft snow that drained energy with every step and also areas of solid snow that on steep slopes was dangerous in places. There were Mountain Hares everywhere but it was impossible to get close so I had to make do with distant shots. Due to the amount of skiers there was no point looking in the areas where I have always managed to find Ptarmigan and I only found one pair elsewhere. Unfortunately I was looking in to the light and as I tried to get on to the right side for photography I spooked them (normal coloured camo in snow is anything but camouflaged but who can afford 2 sets of clothing?!) and so they flew never to be seen again. Due to the amount of skiers I decided to call it a day and retrace our route, instead of doing the faster but longer boring drive back via Pitlochry.
Pauline say’s … The scenic route always gives us stunning views and plenty of birds and usually a surprise or two along the way. Today’s surprise was a pair of magpies in a plantation at Tomintoul … in all our years visiting the Highlands we’ve seen more eagles than magpies – that’s how scarce they are in the north of Scotland. Put that together with John stopping last week to examine a potentially interesting looking bit of road kill in a different spot and seeing a dead magpie seems to indicate they are finally getting a toe hold!