Friday, September 17, 2004

Day 7 | Week 1 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

The wind howled and the rain lashed down during the night and we wake to grey skies and heavy rain. After breakfast we abandon our planned trip to St Agnes in favour of a bus ride up the St Mary’s to the hides at Porth Hellick pool. And the switch pays off as shortly after arriving Alan picks up a Water Rail close to the hide. We watch this adult feeding out in the open for about 20 or so minutes – fantastic! It wanders closer and closer until it is only about 30ft from the hide. At one point it gets agitated and begins to give a high pitched alarm call. Two more Water Rails are seen briefly bathing along the reed edges, but not as brief as the Spotted Crake which walks through my scope view and refuses to materialise. Grrrrrrr! Charles spots a Kingfisher on a perch in the far corner of the pool, but no sooner are we on to it and it flies. Grrrrrr (again!). A Green Sandpiper also gives excellent views, all dark on top and white underneath and bobbing as it feeds. Greenshank and Snipe complete the cast.

We walk up to Port Hellick Down in search of yesterday’s Dotterel. There has clearly been a fall of commoner birds with Song Thrushes everywhere including eight together! Stonechats bob around the heather and a couple of Wheatears skip from rock to rock. Just as we arrive at the top of the down, and with no sign of the Dotterel, the pager tells us that it is on the golf course. Grrrrrr (again!!). Oh well. Terry finds a Large Yellow Underwing in the heather which we pick up to take a closer look. As it flies of it flashes its brilliant yellow hindwings.

Red Admiral

We walk along the pine belt back towards the pool with Goldcrests calling constantly. The fields are full of Linnets and Meadow Pipits, while the bank hedges are alive with Wrens, Dunnocks, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Starlings and House Sparrows. The walk back gives us excellent views of the Loaded Camel – a rock formation shaped like, well, a loaded camel!

The Loaded Camel

We lunch on the rocks overlooking Porth Hellick. The tide is out and the whole rock pool and seaweed strewn beach is covered in Ringed Plovers and Turnstones. A Greenshank picks its way through the shallow pools.

We take a look in the hides but the pool is quiet. We arrive in Holy Vale as the weather makes up its mind on what to do – sun out. At last! The whole place is buzzing with birds. Tits, Dunnocks, Wrens, Goldcrests, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs are very vocal. One Willow Warbler is in sub-song and at least three Chiffchaffs are trying hard at learning their song! Just before the Cathedral we all get great views of Goldcrest and some of us catch glimpse of a Blackcap. The Cathedral is quiet by comparison, but arriving at the chalets, I spy a Spotted Flycatcher flying up to canopy of one of the tall elms above us. It flies back down and across to the old orchard where it joins a Pied Flycatcher on overhead wires. Pied and Spot Flys in the same scope – wow! Both flycatchers perform brilliantly, the Spotted keeping mainly to the wires but the Pied spending quite a bit of time in the old apple trees until a Robin chases it off!

Spotted Flycatcher

We continue up to Maypole where a load of Swallows are chattering away on overhead wires. The ‘Rat Pond’ is bird-free, but some of us manage to glimpse a Garden Warbler along the elm-lined track to Content Farm where we also flush a dozen Red-legged Partridges.

We arrive on the golf course with great anticipation of finding the Dotterel still there. Fat chance! All we can see are Wheatears, Linnets and White Wagtails. We scour the course but no joy, so we retreat forlornly to Juliet’s Garden (where else?!) for a pick-up cuppa and slice of something sticky.

The walk back in to town is without any excitement so a few of us decide to try our luck again with the Wryneck up Garrison Lane. It hasn’t been reported today, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still present. An hour later we give up. It must have gone. Must it?

After dinner, news that the Dotterel was back on the golf course at around 6pm, some of us grab a taxi and dash up there to use what is left of the light to search for this elusive wader. On arrival we find quite a few gulls. Good sign. It means no golfers on the course. We set off round. Every little clump of grass is scrutinised and every movement of a Wheatear followed. Nothing. Damn! This bird really is giving us the run around. The sunset however is simply breathtaking. The pale red sun sinks slowly into the Atlantic Ocean behind Samson. The sky is picture-postcard blue and pink. Bishop lighthouse twinkles away, and the Moon slips into the sky as the merest of crescents. What a sky.

What a sunset!

We all muster in the lounge for our last checklist of the week. With three new species added to the weeks tally, we end up on a very respectable 87species of bird. We’ve also seen 11 species of butterfly, three moths, several mammals and several other insects.

The place of the trip is close, with Bryher pipping St Martin’s, and Juliet’s Garden (all our visits!) just ahead of the Water Rail and tonight’s stunning sunset for Magic Moment. Species of the trip is going three ways. Who can forget the stunning views of Whimbrel on St Martin’s. Surprisingly, the Red Underwing moth gets a couple of votes, but edging the voting, the St Mary’s Wryneck takes the honours (and rightly so!).

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