I have always wanted to visit the Cairngorms so when my local RSPB group arranged a holiday with Speyside I was eager to join them. Normally Speyside has their own place, the Steadings, but there were too many of us to fit so we were staying at the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey instead. John, Carol and I made our own way there and met with the leaders and the other people in our group in the evening.
Day 1 – May 12
On the first morning, we set off for the Findhorn Valley stopping for some great views of Ring Ouzels at Slochd Summit on the way. There were plenty of Red Deer on the hillside and a White-tailed Eagle flew over. We had lunch along the river whilst watching a Dipper under the bridge.
We continued on to Loch Ruthven where we were in luck and had good views of the elusive Slavonian Grebe known to be breeding there.
In the evening, after dinner, we head off to Speyside’s mammal hide where we watch several Badgers and a Pine Marten coming by for food.
Day 2 – May 13
We headed for Udale Bay for sea birds and Dolphins. Our first stop was Chanonry Point, on one side of the narrowest part of the Moray Firth. It was rather breezy but there were lots of seabirds around and we were also rewarded by a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins going past just off the shore.
Day 3 – May 14
We had a lovely day at the Moray Firth. We had lunch at Spey Bay, a lovely spot where the Spey enters the Moray Firth. In the river mouth there were lots of ducks and geese, Goosanders, Red-breasted Merganser, Greylag, Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese to name a few. On the sea there were Scoters, Eider and Long-tailed Ducks. There were also plenty of waders to see. At Lossiemoth we watched both Artic and Great Skuas moving along the firth on their spring passage.
Day 4 – May 15
Speyside is best known for it’s Caledonian Forest and the Capercaillie. We made an early start for one of the Lekking sites but on the way we came accross a ‘rouge’ Caper by the side of the road displaying to the cars. You couldn’t get better views. We then went on to Tulloch Moor to look for Black Grouse. We managed to find one fairly close and a few more could be seen in the far distance. Not bad for a pre-breakfast outing.
At Abernethy we had a lovely walk. We had good views of a small flock of Scottish Crossbills feeding on pine cones, but although we could hear the Crested Tits we were unable to see any.
We had lunch at Loch Insh whilst watching the Ospreys going to and from their nest. Later we walked around Uath Lochans, part of Inshriach Forest, where we at last manage to see the wonderful Crested Tits.
Day 5 – May 16
There was an optional trip to Handa Island off the North West coast of Sutherland and most of us came on this outing. It was a long drive and we stopped a few times on the way spotting two Black-throated Divers on Loch Droma.
We caught the ferry over to Handa where we saw all the usual suspects with both Skua’s, all the Auks, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Common Terns on the slipway.
Day 6 – May 17
Some might say we’d left the best for last, it was time to go up the Cairngorm, UK’s sixth highest mountain. We took the funicular up to the end stop where most of us went out on the cafe terrace, scanning the hillsides below for the target birds of Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting. Some eagle-eyed person, Sean, managed to stop a white dot in the far distance that was identified as a Dottrel. Back down again we spotted a male Ring Ouzel is singing by the funicular building.
We had lunch at Loch Insh whilst watching the resident pair of Ospreys. After lunch we went on to Lochindorb, a large but shallow fish rich loch in the middle of Dava Moor; home to the most easterly breeding pair of Black-throated Divers in the Highlands and a popular fishing spot for several Ospreys. We saw a few Red Grouse on the moors on the way and managed to find the Black-throated Divers on the loch.
It was a lovely trip with great company and guides. The highlight of the trip must be the magnificent Capercaillie displaying by the vans.
The total number of birds