Tuesday morning saw me head off to the Abernethy side of the Cairngorms before breakfast. At first light a huge Red Deer stag stood in the driveway barring my way out, but soon moved into the middle of Braemar. The long road trip round took me through some interesting habitat - I'd not explored this area before. Mountain Hares were seen in some areas and a ringtail Hen Harrier had escaped the shooters' attention so far. The ski area at Leac a'Ghobhainn produced a Ring Ouzel and Red Grouse.
The weather wasn't great (two degrees, windy and raining most of the time) so I didn't put as much effort as I might otherwise have done in looking for Speyside specials - and conseqently didn't see any of them. 4 Goldeneye were on Loch Garten, Common Sandpiper at Loch Morlich and 2 Bullfinch at Coylumbridge were the best I could manage but given that I was back at Braemar for breakfast I couldn't really have expected much more.
Common Sandpiper, Loch Morlich, 2nd June
Roe Deer, Abernethy Forest, 2nd June
I was watching the Spotted Flycatchers in the garden at Braemar when I heard an Acrocephaline sound. Not what I expected from a small hillside pond. Eventually it got going properly and proved to be a Sedge Warbler. Apart from the less than ideal habitat I think Sedge Warblers are relatively scarce in this part of the world. They're also meant to breed below 300m altitude whereas this is 334m, so I figured that if it was sticking there to breed it would makes it quite an interesting record. In the end I don't think it did breed - lots of singing going on but I didn't see a second bird, and I didn't see that bird the next day.
Sedge Warbler, Braemar, 2nd June
Spotted Flycatchers, Braemar, 2nd June
I photographed a Coal Tit that was visiting a nest in a moss-covered stump in the garden but it was only when I got home and looked at the photos that I thought it looked interesting. Maybe it was just the photos as I didn't notice it in the field but judging from the photos (the whole set - just 3 of them here) it seemed to have a steely blue grey back with absolutely no olive tones, creamy buff underparts with only a very restricted bit of deeper orangey-buff colour on the flanks, and it clearly had a strongly tufted appearance in several of the images. If I saw that on the coast in the SE in late September I'd start wondering if it was a Continental Coal Tit (nominate ater) but breeding in Scotland in June? I suppose that tiny bit of orangey on the upper flanks may not have been there if it had been ater, and the extent of black on the breast isn't really much to steer away from brittanicus - it doesn't reach the shoulders - and the white on the nape isn't broad enough, but it was an interesting bird to mull over. I wonder if it's normal for Scottish-breeding Coal Tits to look like this? Worn tits in the midst of breeding before they begin their post-breeding moult can look very odd - maybe this would turn into a perfectly normal fresh olivey brittanicus a month or so later? I can at least imagine the flanks might have been brighter when they were fresher.
Coal Tit, Braemar, 2nd June
The sheer number of breeding birds in the garden was fantastic - so many species in pairs and either evidently nesting or feeding young in such a small area. Brilliant!
Long-tailed Tit, Braemar, 2nd June
Robins, Braemar, 2nd June
Siskin, Braemar, 2nd June
Starling, Braemar, 2nd June
the garden, Braemar, 2nd June
If you're after touristy stuff in the Braemar area let me advise against Balmoral Castle (expensive and you don't get to see much - only one room of the castle itself, for example, and the Queen would have a fit if she was fed the stuff from the restaurant).
Balmoral, 2nd June
The views might be nice but I got the impression that our £22 entrance fee contributed more to supporting private grouse (and harrier?) shooting than improving what was on offer to normal people. I think their business model was something along the lines of 'let's fleece them while they're here because they won't come back'. I did hear a couple of Crossbills and as the tractor wasn't available to take us back to the gate after the tour we walked back along the river notching up a singing male Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper.
Bogbean, Balmoral, 2nd June
Chaffinch, Balmoral, 2nd June
Song Thrush, Balmoral, 2nd June
Instead of the castle I would recommend a trip to the nearby Lochnagar distillery. Not the first distillery tour I've done but more interesting than the previous one, and the whisky was good too. I'd suggest going for the £10 tour instead of the £7 tour - the cheaper one includes a taste of the very fine 12 year old whisky whereas the £10 one gets you tastes of both that and the £170-a-bottle Royal Selected Reserve. And if £170 is too much to come away with a bottle of it (as it was for us) there is a middle ground option.
Royal Lochnagar - Triple Matured Edition, 2nd June
In the afternoon we headed down the valley to Glenshee where we were going to look for Ptarmigans. But the promised brightening up in the weather didn't occur and we didn't fancy walking up the mountain in wind and rain. A couple of presumed Mountain Hares were odd - structurally they looked like Rabbits but they had the colouration of Mountain Hares I'd seen in the morning so presumably were hares. Do young Mountain Hares look more rabbit-like? Or do Rabbits on Glenshee take on Mountain Hare colouring? Or do they hybridise...?
The weather continued to fail to deliver the promised sunshine as we headed down the Linn of Dee. We did manage to see 2 Wheatears, Stonechat and the first Redstart of the holiday.
Redstart, Linn of Dee, 2nd June
Stonechat, Linn of Dee, 2nd June
(Move on to days 4 & 5)