It was school half term and Johanne had to renew her first aid certificate so as fate would have it we found ourselves on the mainland and staying at the Dolphin Bay Suites in Ardeseir for a few days. The views from the apartment around 15 miles east of Inverness were great with flocks of Common Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks to entertain (well me at least) but planning ahead I had in mind to set up a trip or two with Western Isles Wildlife to explore the Highlands. Therefore the draw of a Desert Wheatear wintering at Rattray Head seemed a very reasonable place to start an exploration of some of the Scottish Highlands I wasn't so familiar with. Under great duress I headed across country on 23rd February to try my luck with the wayward wheatear. I arrived at the carpark near the lighthouse at Rattray Head around 10 am. and wandered onto the beach in reasonably calm if somewhat cold conditions. The thermometre was reading around 1 degree C. but with a breeze off the sea it felt somewhat colder! I scanned the beach opposite the lightouse and saw nothing so I ventured around the dune to the south and was greeted with a sweeping, almost desolate looking stretch of sand which was pretty un-inspiring so I returned to spot the wee wheatear hopping amongst the seaweed and debris back where I'd started. I crouched down on the beach to find the wee bird heading straight towards me and within minutes I was floundering to sort out my camera settings as this lovely bird was hopping withing yards of me. Failing completely to secure anything of any use I watched the bird for a while and noted that it repeatedly returned to a particular perch. It was obviously not a shy individual so I popped myself down a few yards from the stick: within minutes it was hovering around my head and I was failing to get the shot but once I'd settled the bird returned time and time again allowing me to sort out a decent shot or two
Following on from this excellent encounter I headed to St. Combs where as luck would have it someone had reported a King Eider the day before. St. Combs is only a few miles north of Rattray Head and basically on my way home so it would have been insane not to try and have a brief look. I headed into the village and the first obvious view point over the sea. The immediate impression was of an almost bird-bereft sea-scape but a little patience showed that various seaduck species were present and bobbing off-shore; amongst which was a fine drake King Eider. The bird was distant and as I'd buggered my digi-camera after dropping it in a rock pool after photographing the Harlequin at Balranald I just enjoyed the bird through my scope.
The following day was family day so what better thing to do (living on an almost tree-less island) than enjoy some mature Caledonian Pine Forest. We all headed for Aviemore and went for a stroll in the woods. OK I had a tip off but wasn't really expecting this:
Not only was I not expecting it but the rest of them weren't expecting a full on charge from a huge, turkey- sized, pumped up grouse either! Brillaint!!