Thursday, 20 August 2015

White Tailed Eagle and Bee Eaters

We spent the last two weeks of July based at Poolewe in North West Scotland. My main hope was to see a White Tailed Eagle, which had eluded me on our last three trips to Scotland.

The timing of the holiday was not ideal for seeing passerines, we have an opportunity, now we have both retired, to plan an earlier foray next year. The woods and moors were very quiet.

Loch Maree is well known as a nesting site for White Tailed Eagles, but a trip to the Beinne Eighe visitors’ centre revealed that there has been no record of Eagles visiting the nest site this year. We were told that Gruinard Island is regularly visited by White Tails, where they catch rabbits.

We had two sessions watching Gruinard from one of the many vantage points available. We were successful on the second visit. A juvenile bird, very dark and with a tatty tail that had a few missing feathers and showed a few white patches on the feathers that remained. It flew from the north, circled the island and then flew steadily south until it dipped out of view about two miles away.

References in books and on the net to ‘a flying garage door’ are very apt. The head and neck are pronounced and the large bill very obvious. The steady shallow effortless flight reminded me a bit of a Manta Ray. We had just the one sighting, but it put on a good show.

Other raptors were in short supply, although we didn’t get out and about most days until noon, so probably missed a lot of the action. The weather was very changeable and quite cool, with only two days of continuous sunshine. Our raptor sightings amounted to good views of Red Kites near Inverness, en route to our destination, inevitable regular views of Buzzards and a single Kestrel.

Loch Ewe is large sea loch that has one significant island, Isle Ewe. Gruinard Bay, with Gruinard Island and the promontory, which separates it from Loch Ewe, together with the points north and south where both bodies of water meet the sea, provide a variety of habitats and vantage points. We saw flocks of Twites and Linnets beyond Mellon Charles, but otherwise ‘tweets’ were mainly seen in ones and twos.

Loch Maree and some of the nearby large lochs are significant breeding sites for Black Throated Divers. We had a good view of a pair on Loch Gairloch. Divers often feed in sea lochs, Red Throated particularly so.

Both Common and a few Artic Terns were very active in Loch Ewe throughout every day of our stay. They were often accompanied by a Grey Seal. In Gruinard Bay there’s a good site for seeing Common Seals hauled upon the rocks.

There were good numbers of Red Breasted Mergansers on Loch Ewe and we had close views of a duckling on Loch Maree, apparently venturing out on its own. It eventually returned to shore and we hoped that it would be reunited with a parent, although none was in evidence.

For the botanically minded, Inverewe Gardens overlook Loch Ewe. Wild flowers were abundant on the moors, with swathes of Bog Asphodel and Cotton Grass. Finding lots of Bog Myrtle was particularly pleasing - the scent is amazing.

A week after our return home we had four nights near Dunbar. Excellent views of Bass Rock. The vast number of Gannets on the rock reminded me of the white cinders on the top of a barbeque, with the large number of birds circling above and around looking like wisps of smoke.

Yesterday we visited the Bee Eaters at Brampton. The quarry owners, local land owner and the RSPB have cooperated to provide excellent views of the remaining pair (plus helper). The number of visits to the nest rose to fifteen and hour during our visit. The RSPB has a blog associated with its web site. 

They will announce when the chicks fledge and anticipate a lot of visitors once this happens. It’s expected that the birds will leave the site about a week or so after the young emerge from the nest.

There is no way of telling how many young are being fed. The expert view is that the quantity of food being taken means more than two young, but there could have been up to ten eggs laid. There are concerns around the close attention being paid to the area around the nest hole by Carrion Crows. 

There are several Sand Martin colonies in the quarry where Carrion Crows are known to predate newly emerged young. There are also Sprawks and Buzzards in close proximity. Foxes have been seen above the nest site, which is very near the top of the sand bank.

On Wednesday we walked near Harbottle and I saw a flock of twenty eight Mistle Thrushes.

So, two new birds on my list in one month. Not often that has happened.

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