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Mon 20th July 2009 - SCOTLAND

Posted on July 26, 2009 at 5:10 PM

Early on Monday morning, I woke with a start. Snug in my sleeping bag I could clearly hear the 'jipping' of crossbills from all around the tent. It was 5:45 and practically a sleep-in for me, so I thought Andy should be woken up to try and get some recordings. I'm sure he was very pleased with me. Upon stepping out into the fresh air, we could see that it was a wonderful morning, with blue skies and the sun slowly sweeping across the glen as it rose over the hillsides.

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The Pines of Keiloch at first light

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We did record a few crossbill calls, but I failed to photograph lots of individuals as I had hoped to do. The birds only visited the trees very fleetingly, and never in the closest pines, and, as it was quite breezy, the tops of the trees constantly swayed, blurring many images in the low light levels of early morning. The best shot was the effort below which appears to show a chunky crossbill with a deep bill. It could be either Scottish or Parrot Crossbill I suppose, but fits in with my idea of a Scottish the most. Maybe when Andy has analysed the recordings we might have a better idea which species were present.

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potential male Scottish Crossbill at Keiloch

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After grabbing some fruit loaf for breakfast, we decided to try another pine wood and headed for Linn of Dee. We walked to the edge of the pines without getting a sniff of anything then a party of 6 crossbills flew out of the pines and across in front of us. They seemed massive brutes with deep flight calls and so we suspected they might be Parrots - but it was getting very confusing!

We had our second breakfast in a Braemar cafe and we headed on downstream to our next spot, Glen Muick. We didn't plan to walk anywhere here just look for things from the roadside. Andy spotted a fly-by fritillary on a superb roadside verge which was crawling with insects. As well as a few Dark Green Frits, there were lots of Chimney Sweepers and Andy netted a classy Gold Spangle. When the terrain turned a bit wilder, we saw two young juvenile Peregrines chasing each other but we failed to locate any Black Grouse that we had seen in the valley a previous year. Bird of the day though was a superb male Hen Harrier gliding across the heather-clad hillside. At the head of the valley there were lots of Red Deer to photograph.

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Dark Green Fritillary                                                                                                             Red Deer stag

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Our final planned stop was Glen Tanar near Aboyne which is also a good crossbill site. Although we did hear a crossbill early on in the walk which we recorded well, there were none obvious in the main forest. We eventually saw a bird near the car which from the snap I took looks like a smaller Common Crossbill to me. The walk though was fabulous anyway - the scenery was amazing and moths and butterflies were everywhere. I estimate that we saw at least 500 Twin-spot Carpets which took flight every few yards along the tracks, and we netted at least 11 other types of geometer moths during the afternoon, the highlight being the Caledonian Pine Forest specialist, the Rannoch Looper.

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probable Common Crossbill                                             Rannoch Looper perched on my pet stick 

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We had to head back down to Edinburgh for the night so we took an excellent little road which ran down the east side of the massif. We passed a superb viewpoint called Cairn O'Mount where you could see right across to Fife. Descending the steep hill following this we had a conversation something like this:

          "Andy, can you smell burning?"    --   "No"

          "I'm sure I can smell something burning"    --    "They're burning the heather - It'll be that"

          "But it smells like burnt rubber. I don't think it's heather."    --    "You reckon? It'll be right"

          "I think you'd better stop. We should have a look"

At which point we did stop and saw that the Skoda's brakes were giving off smoke big-style. We let them cool down somewhat. After cheating death, we decided that a nice meal was in order, so we drove into the well-known centre of haute cuisine - Forfar. The town seemed totally closed on a Monday evening and we were about to give up when we saw an Indian open, which was pretty darn good feed! Forfar is not quite as gloomy as it initially appears.

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The fine vista from Cairn O'Mount                                                                                       The fine vista from Forfar public car park

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We camped at the same place near Edinburgh Airport next to the loudest american woman this side of the Atlantic, whose boyfriend must have been very deaf. Luckily we were so tired during the night we didn't get to find out whether she did everything noisily. The next morning Andy dropped me off at the airport before he headed South on the marathon drive back to Norwich.

 

Categories: 2009 Summer