Monday, 3 July 2017

Peregrines, ospreys and Scotland!

My last blog finished with the promise or hint of a peregrine food pass, these spectacular birds fascinate me their ability to switch between ferocious brutality when hunting to tender care when tending their youngsters is awesome!

Here the male has brought in a kill and is passing it to the female for distribution to the three chicks.

While we operate the viewpoint primarily for the peregrines there are lots of other great wildlife sightings to enjoy. Stoat chasing a rabbit for example...

The rabbit escaped and the stoat retreated to a drystone wall...

And so to Scotland for a two week holiday, the first of these was on Ardnamurchan, the peninsula that leads to the most westerly mainland point in Scotland. Spectacular wilderness and an area we love.

Our home for the week was one we had been to before, owned by two professional biologists it attracts some special visitors. Food is provided to help the cottage occupants see pine martens and badgers, a mixture of fruit and nuts are supplied along with detailed advice on quantities to ensure the food is only supplementary and not habit changing or dangerous to the wildlife. More on that later!

From our previous visit we knew a white tailed eagle nest was not far away so our venture was there, success within.....hours!

You can see the bird has a satellite location tag attached, with raptor persecution still all too rife tracking is necessary and has no detriment for the bird.

The grey light in the photograph became a theme for the week unfortunately and hampered photography but at least we got out every day.

The area holds good populations of red deer...

A young stag in "velvet"....antlers re-growing and covered in a velvet like substance.

Pine martens are largely nocturnal, we have on occasion had the opportunity to see them in decent light but on this trip we were limited to late night visits but they are always a delight to see.

Close relatives of stoats and weasels but substantially larger...

More red deer...

This was a large group of females and youngsters of both sexes.

That evening we had a very late night visit from a badger, the photographs are not good but taken in the dark and with no danger of disturbing or upsetting the badger.

White tailed eagle perched in the top of a tree...

A willow warbler, spotted whilst sheltering from a shower!

Red squirrel at our cottage...delightful.

A more favourable weather forecast allowed the opportunity for a walk in Strontian Oakwoods, a delightful mixed woodland despite the name, mainly deciduous but occasional copses of pine in partially cleared areas.

And a surprise a wonderful male whinchat in the car park!

In the woodland I first heard then saw wood warbler...

And that was our week on Ardnamurchan, a great stay despite the less than brilliant weather. A short drive to Kilchoan and the small ferry to Tobermory, a restocking shop in the Co-op and off we drove to our accomodation near Bunessan.

A converted steading (cow shed!) happily the property was delightful, spacious and a great place to watch the rain falling steadily and consistently!

Fortunately we know a few places on Mull where the car can be safely parked and some scanning for wildlife can take place from the dry interior of our vehicle.

While scanning for otters on our first day I spotted male and female stonechat respectively, super little birds.

A selection of our otter photographs...

White tailed eagles

More otters

One day offered a respite from the weather and we booked a boat trip to the Treshnish Isles, our third trip out here and a journey and destinations we love!

Not exactly a smooth trip but safely on the small isle of Lunga, home to puffins!

What a wonderful experience and one we will return to for as long as we can.

Reboarding our small boat we were warned the crew had received a weather warning of strong and strengthening swells on the Atlantic Ocean, with the safety of passengers paramount the skipper advised a direct return to Fionnphort rather than the planned Staffa and Iona call offs.

We did receive complimentary tickets for Iona on the larger, and therefore more stable Calmac ferry so Iona it was.

A peaceful spiritual place where we wandered pleasantly for a couple of hours, listened to corncrakes but did not see them.

We had seen fleeting glimpses of hen harriers in one location, frustratingly too far away for my lens and our last day on Mull we decided to have a long and detailed search for them.

My hours watching raptors at home paid off as I picked this bird up way out of camera range, identified with certainty I tracked it as it came closer, male hen harrier!

...and to cap it off, a female too a short while later.

Not close but brilliant to see.

An incident free journey home the next day and after catching up with family things and some gardening we had an hour at Malham to see how the peregrines were progressing. The team had informed me that the youngsters had fledged, i.e. started flying from the nest, while I had been away.

With plenty of experience with peregrines they should not surprise me, yet they always do!

These are all juveniles, the brownish colouring and vertical chest markings are the key factors, adults have horizontal barring and are more steel grey with whiter chests.

Another visit later in the week and a juvenile screams for food as the adult has a catch, they have to learn the food pass because soon the food will be dropped and they have to dive and catch it, simulating the huntings skills they need to develop.

A close up of the female peregrine, now raising her fifth brood she is a formidable and protective bird.

Quite a priviledge to photograph her at close quarters, a stunning view.

Later and perched, she is keeping on eye on their surroundings as the male is out hunting.

A decent forecast for the last weekend led us to a trip to Cumbria, not a return to fellwalking but the prospect of ospreys.

The quiet Esthwaite Water is a real delight, peaceful and tranquil even on a sunny day.

A small electric powered boat can be hired (£25 per hour) an osprey nest is pointed out, bhoys are placed to keep visitors from straying too close to the nest. Good osprey sightings ensued and we had a great day out.

And finally, another peregrine check yielded a super shot (I think) of a juvenile getting to grips with its power, a surprise sighting and I am delighted I got some decent focus on a high speed bird.

So, two weeks holiday, many hours with the peregrines, a quality osprey encounter and many happy memories.

I hope you enjoy the photographs and words that accompany them, at this time of year when I am out for many hours in the day it is difficult to keep the blog up to date.

Many thanks to all who read, it really is appreciated. Don't forget if you do comment, they come to me first for moderation.

Cheers everyone...........