3 to 13 June 2017

Jun2017 Scotland Spey bridge MKorndorffer
At Old Spey Bridge (M Korndorffer)

Twenty of us assembled on 3 June at the Hilton in Coylumbridge near Aviemore for our ten day wildlife and archeology holiday in Speyside and Orkney (with support from Speyside wildlife travel). We made a fast start and at midday of the first outing were on the top of Cairngorm admiring a snow bunting perched and singing on the summit weathervane. Snow immediately fell and we beat a hasty retreat warmed by the recollection of birds we has seen on lower slopes, dotterel, ptarmigan, ring ouzel, siskin, crossbill, redstart, tree pipit and raven with the bonus of a mountain hare.  The afternoon was deservedly more relaxed allowing us to spend time over our sightings especially of Slavonian grebe and ospreys on their nest.  The evening we spent in a wildlife hide seeing three badgers and a tawny owl seizing a wood mouse.

Rain was prevalent on days two and three but waterside activities brought us dipper, goosander, spotted flycatcher and magnificent views of a black-throated diver as well as several raptors including merlin, red kite and osprey.  Wet woodland walks brought us pied flycatcher and wood warbler plus red squirrels. We were also charmed by family groups of red grouse and goldeneye and added red deer and brown hare to our mammal list.

Jun2017 Scotland Orkney KOsa
Neolithic site (K Osa)
Day four saw our transfer from Aviemore to the Standing Stones Hotel on Orkney. We birded along the way and added many species to our trip list including whinchat, hen harrier, peregrine, eider, lesser whitethroat, arctic and sandwich tern, Iceland gull, gannet, kittiwake, guillemot, black guillemot, razorbill, shag, great and arctic skua.  The ferry ride was initially rough but became calmer as soon as we reached the historic waters of Scapa Flow.

On Orkney we spent single days touring Rousay and Hoy with two devoted to mainland Orkney.  Rousay offered a bright sunny day and produced some gems such as short-eared owl, twite, hooded crow, rock pipit and great northern diver plus extended views from above of a ringtail hen harrier.  Hoy had a bleak and unspoilt majesty.  The ferry crossing produced a wide array of seabirds with Manx shearwaters starring. Views from Hoy included both great northern and red-throated divers and huge rafts of eider and shag.  We saw three hen harriers, diving gannets and, the most applauded bird of the trip, a white-tailed eagle that remained in sight for several minutes.

Orkney Mainland birding continued to provide additions to our trip list and there was much cheer when several puffins were seen on a windswept cliff. Equal excitement was generated by a family of otters swimming ever closer to our position and showing well.  First-time sightings included ringed plover, sanderling, wigeon, gadwall and shoveler.  It was surprising to us Surrey residents, that rails were confined to three coots and a single moorhen for the entire trip.  A second short-eared owl perched by the roadside brightened the day for some of us.  We also found a little time to spend in Kirkwall and visit the magnificent cathedral of St Magnus and were enchanted by the extraordinary originality and artistry of the wartime Italian Chapel.

Our exploration of the Neolithic heritage of the islands proved a welcome diversion from birding on a day when wind and driving rain blew up, conditions that were mild for the Orkneys (we were assured).  The precision engineering of the Maeshowe cairn, the majesty of both the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brognar and the domesticity of Skara Brae, to say nothing of the antiquity of the sites (predating Stonehenge by several centuries) will long remain in the memory.  Our cultural activities received a deserved reward when a pair of twite appeared in one of the stone circles and it was amusing to see that the houses of Skara Brae were still habitable at least to eponymous sparrows.

Jun2017 Scotland ArcticSkua TCummins Jun2017 Scotland Eider KWhite Jun2017 Scotland Old man Hoy PBryant
Artic Skua (P Cummins) Eider (K White) Old Man of Hoy (P Bryant)


Our return voyage from Orkney was smooth and productive with sightings of the elusive storm petrel, Manx shearwaters and several of puffins against the majestic backdrop of the Old Man of Hoy.  Lunch at Dunnet Bay offered a master class in the plumages of juvenile terns and kittiwakes.  On our final morning there was just time for a few desperate souls to see crested tits in the hotel grounds, a fitting finale to our ten days of fun and companionship.

Our species lists for the trip comprised 133 birds, 13 mammals, five butterflies including painted lady and two Scottish weddings one on each of our Saturday nights.