Saturday, 31 March 2012

Integrated Land Use

As mentioned in previous blogs I attended a conference on Thursday (29th) and Friday (30th) at the Carrbridge Hotel just north of Aviemore within the Cairngorms National Park. The subject of the conference was Integrated Land Use and was organised by RSPB, University of Highlands & Islands (UHI) and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. It was designed for students undertaking environment related courses within the UHI so that they could come together to discuss and share ideas on land management. There were students from Forestry (of which I was one), Environmental Sciences, Gamekeeping and Heritage Studies courses with a number of UHI and RSPB staff and a variety of managers representing their chosen land use sectors.

We arrived at the hotel at 1pm on the Thursday and checked in before an introduction was given and then we headed to the Kinveachy Estate for a site visit which would form the main focus of the conference workshops. We filled up the minibuses and drove a couple miles to the site. We were split up into mixed teams and talked with managers located around the site to gain a better picture of what was going on and to form ideas. The weather was stunning and the trip well worth it. Discussions ranged from grazing and wader management to tourism, forestry and upland management. We spent 3 hours up there and once we had  finished we headed back to the hotel.

At 19:00 we were welcomed by George Campbell of the RSPB and given a brief introduction to what will be involved in the workshops the next day. Afterwards a very nice three course meal was had before we all sat down to enjoy a presentation from Peter Cairns. Peter is an award winning nature photographer and writer and he talked about the 2020 vision project which I found very enjoyable and inspirational. Some of his photos were simply stunning. Find out more HERE. A quote that Peter used in his presentation struck a chord with everyone present and is one I totally agree with. He said:

"Keep your mind open when others have made their mind up"

A great piece of advice for anyone involved in land management these days and anyone in general.

After a rather late night with quite a few drinks had in the hotel bar, the second day started with breakfast at 8:00 and a brief introduction to the day from Will Boyd the Senior Land Management Officer for the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

The keynote speech was given by Pete Mayhew the Senior Conservation Manager with RSPB in North Scotland and he discussed integrated land use and talked about the RSPB's Futurescapes project which promotes conservation on a landscape scale.

Following on from Pete was a talk given by Will Anderson who is the Forestry Director for Seafield & Strathspey Estates of which Kinveachy is a part of. He talked about the fact that Integrated Land Use in forestry is not a new thing and the importance of continuing it on a larger scale within forest management.

The second talk of the morning was by Peter Duncan from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Peter is currently the reserves manager for South Highland and previously for East Highland. His focus was on the Creag Meagaidh reserve and the complexities of restoring native pinewood without deer fences and how this affected neighbouring estates and the benefits of everyone working together.

A mid morning break was then had with tea, coffee, cakes and biscuits on offer before the second half of the morning resumed.

Following on from the break the third talk of the morning was from Brian Lyall. Brian is currently the Head Stalker at Badanloch Estate and a part-time lecturer at the North Highland College. He talked about the importance of deer management to local economies and families in the North Highlands and changes in priorities of land use in his time at the estate most notably the afforestation in the Flow Country.

The final talk of the morning session was from Jamie Evans who is currently a land agent for Smiths Gore with 15 years experience in rural land management. His focus was on the holdings of the Crown Estate and talked about different land uses on Glen Livet Estate

After the final talk lunch was had and a small amount of time was available before the afternoon workshops commenced and a few of us sat outside in sun which was incredibly warm for the end of March!

In the afternoon session we sat down in our groups to come up with a management plan for Kinveachy Estate using what we saw and heard on the site visit the previous day and the talks given earlier. Each group was to come up with a plan for integrated land use and was given a primary objective to focus on, for example our group's primary objective was agriculture. After much discussion and a land use map drawn up each group gave a short presentation on their plan.

Overall it was a very informative and eye opening couple of days for everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and it was nice to get a chance to mix with students from other environment related courses as most of the time we are at separate campus' widely spread across the Highlands. A big thanks to the UHI, RSPB and Cairngorms National Park Authority for organising the event.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Spring is official...

Saw my first Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies of the year yesterday in an opening in the forest surrounding the forestry college.

Whilst out doing fieldwork for a college module this morning (28th) in a block of forest East of Inverness near Balloch I heard my first Chiffchaff of the year, wasn't lucky enough or had enough time to try and see it though.

I had some spare time this afternoon so I took a stroll down at the local Conon River. Plenty of Common gulls around the old abandoned fish factory with most of them paired up.

Also spotted a pair of Pied Wagtails, a singing Dunnock and pair of Chaffinch collecting nest material.

Further along the riverbank a pair of Herring gulls and Oystercatchers were seen on the shingle bank.

In the woods were the usual suspects but unfortunately no Chiffchaff yet. The woodland floor was covered in Wood Anemone and Lesser Celandine in flower.

Lesser Celandine
Wood Anemone
Other birds seen were a Grey Heron, Rooks, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Wood Pigeon and a Buzzard.

Back at home there were two species of bumblebee in the garden although I am not entirely sure what they are. One had a white end and one was smaller with a red end. Set myself a task of getting some clear pictures of them.

In other news my book arrived as expected "Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America", although I havent had a chance to get stuck into it but I've had a quick look through and it really is a beautiful book.

As mentioned in my last blog I will be attending a conference on Thursday and Friday on Integrated Land Use. I am able to attend through my college and it is being run by the RSPB, University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. There will be a mix of talks from RSPB staff, estate owners, deer stalkers, foresters and farmers with workshops being run and a site visit included. It should be interesting, I will report back on it at a later date.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Another week...

Fairly quiet week again in terms of birding, still bogged down with college work. I heard Skylarks singing on several occasions from the farmland across the road but not been able to spot any yet. I had a nice surprise on Friday morning when I woke up and opened the curtains to see 2 Yellowhammers feeding on some spilled seed in the garden. Before I had a chance to get the camera they had already legged it.

Birding outwith the garden has almost been non-existent but there was reports of 3 white-winged gulls at the local fish factory so I took some time on Saturday morning to go and check. The 1w-Glaucous was seen briefly before it flew off and the 2w-Iceland gull was sleeping on the apex of the fish factory roof and only stirred a couple times to stretch and have a look around. No third bird unfortunately but it was nice to get out for a bit.

In other news it was my birthday last week which meant I was able to purchase a book I have been wanting for awhile now, "Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America" by Helm, can't wait to get stuck into it and hopefully it will arrive tomorrow (Monday 26th).

Also at the end of this week I will attending a conference in Carrbridge on Upland Land uses but I will say more on that at a later date. Then I have just a day between that and when I leave for Northumberland! I am going down to Alnwick again to visit my Dad for 8 days with my girlfriend. It won't be a 100% birding trip but will be out and about so hopefully see some interesting things.

Have a good week everyone.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Garden birdwatching...

Fairly quiet weekend again. Trying to get through mountains of coursework so my bird watching is confined to the garden and what I am able to see from it lately. Plenty of Chaffinch about, up to 8 Greenfinch, 6 Goldfinch, a male Siskin popped in briefly, up to 11 Blackbirds in the garden and surrounding trees, Dunnocks, House Sparrows, Starlings, Collared Dove, a Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, the Rooks are a becoming regular sight and a Wren was flitting about along the fence today. Plenty of Common and Herring Gull, Jackdaw and Carrion Crow flying over the house, Red Kites and Buzzards seen regularly and up to 300 Wood Pigeon in the fields over the road. A few pictures from the garden:

Collard Dove
Purples and greens.
Never get bored of watching these birds especially in the sunlight.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Woodland Management Survey

A different kind of post today, I am undertaking some research for a module that is part of my college course. It is just a small, 5 question survey based on woodland management / purchasing (link below). I would greatly appreciate it if any of you people out there could take a couple minutes to complete it, it would really help me out.

Thanks guys and have a good weekend.

Woodland Management Survey

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Just a quiet one this weekend. I managed to see my second Iceland Gull ever and it was a stunning adult as I was driving towards the A9 through the Black Isle just past Alcaig and there it was on it's own in the corner of a field not 10 metres away. I was able to pull over without disturbing it, the light was perfect and I didn't have my bloody camera on me, quite gutted to be honest. I did go back later in the day to see if I could re-locate it but no such luck.

Today (11th), a short walk around Merkinch Local Nature Reserve in Inverness produced my first Moorhens of the year plus plenty of gulls and other common species. The Black-headed gulls starting to look pretty smart now with their chocolate brown hoods.

Have a good week everyone.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Yesterday (7th) started off clear and sunny with a sudden heavy snow shower. This pattern continued for most of the day but it was too wet for the snow to settle.

In the garden the Song Thrush was back again, his perch becoming quite regular. Hopefully he will find a mate and nest nearby. Whilst standing on the back step I was hit on the head by a big lump of moss. When I looked up on the roof, there was 4 Rooks all picking the moss off and flinging it over the edge.

Song Thrush
I decided to go out and do some birding locally, down at the Conon River. Mainly because I hadn't been down there in a long time which is a shame because it's really nice and quality habitat for birds, especially the flooded woodland (more info here), but also because someone had reportedly seen a Kingfisher a couple days ago. It was sunny and clear so I headed out. I started at the old fish factory, which is now pretty much a pile of rubble, and walked along the river wall (oh how I dream of the gull watching opportunities on my door step if the factory was still running). Straight away I spotted a young Mute Swan on the river, a pair of Goosander (a life tick for me believe it or not) and a pair of Oytercatcher roosting on the opposite bank.

Male Goosander (female was busy diving)
Instead of walking through the woodland on Garrie Island which comes to a dead end before the road bridge I took the route  that runs alongside the adjacent field in the hope of finding a way past the road out towards the river mouth. Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Mallard seen along the way. I walked to near the road bridge where there is two stiles that lead to livestock track for moving them between fields under the road.

I had never been this way before and decided to explore. I hopped another fence to carry on through the woodland taking a route past the water treatment plant there where a Buzzard was soaring over. The path then started to open up with views out towards the river mouth.

View from footpath.
I made my way up a flight of steps which looked fairly newly built and kept heading East along the field boundaries. There were plenty of Geese flying around in the distant and Wood Pigeons in the edge trees. I kept going passing a small burn which had a contraption on it that I guess was a floating mink trap?

American Mink trap?

I could see lots of Geese coming into land now a few fields over so I carried on to see if I could get nearer and see where they were all gathering. I was starting to hear a large number of Geese now but I couldn't see them still so I climbed up to the top of an embankment and came face to face with hundreds of geese! The geese were just as shocked as I were and there were a couple seconds where we just looked at each other. Then they all took off flying over my head by a matter of a few metres, an almost deafening noise and only a few seconds to take some pictures! Even more special for me was that two of the geese closest to me were European White-fronts, my first proper view of this species close up. I sat at that point for a good 45mins watching the geese overhead which were mostly Pink-footed with some Greylags. There was also Mute Swans, Herring and Common Gulls and an amazing view out over the Cromarty Firth.

Mute Swans
Pink-footed and European White-fronted Geese
Pink-footed Geese - Anser brachyrhynchus
Pink-foot, White-fronted, Pink-foot
The View
European White-fronted Goose - Anser albifrons albifrons

Eventually the geese started to settle back down not far from where I first disturbed them when two Red Kites flew over the hill and sent them all up again. This time I noticed something different amongst the flock in the air. It looked very pale. On looking at my pictures later it seems to be a leucistic Pink-footed goose.

Leucistic Pink-footed Goose?
In a matter of seconds it had clouded over and I was caught in a heavy snow shower, where I ended up soaked through as I made my way back, but it was really worth it and I am glad I know my local area a bit better and the woodland should be interesting when spring really kicks off.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Sunday afternoon stroll...

Sunny, clear and cold today, just couldn't resist getting out for a few hours. In the morning there were up to 6 Siskin on the garden feeders and the Rook returned and this time I managed to get a few pictures. I just love Corvids, they are fascinating to watch and look at some of the colours on those feathers!

Rook - Corvus frugilegus
Look at those colours.
Purples, greens and blues.
Out of focus but I like how the nictitating membrane can be seen.
In the afternoon I took a stroll around Ferry Point in Dingwall and along the water's edge back towards the river mouth. Plenty of geese in the fields, Greylag and Pink-feet, they weren't close enough to examine to find anything else in there. Roughly 1000 on land with another 2000 out on the mud. Plenty of Redshank, Teal, Wigeon and gulls as usual. A buzzard was soaring above and small numbers of Goldeneye out on the water. Large mobile flock of Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Tree Sparrow in the hedgerows along the path. A total of 3 Song Thrush were seen during the walk, seeing them all the time now.

Lots of geese.
Pink-footed geese flying over.
Reed Bunting
Tree Sparrow
More Yellowhammer
A quick check at the fish factory showed the Iceland Gull was back but no sign of the Glaucous this time. The Iceland flew off before I could try to get some photos although the Hybrid crows were back again and being nosey as usual. Another Song Thrush was seen on the grass next to the factory.

Hybrid Crow

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Iceland re-visited...

A few weeks ago I had spotted an Iceland Gull at the local fish factory in Dingwall (see post here). When I saw it in the morning the light was poor and I had thought it had a dark iris thus making it a 1st-winter bird. At the time it didn't really matter too much to me, I was just glad I had the chance to see one of these birds locally during this "white winger" invasion. I saw the same bird later that day and managed to get some better pictures. A quick look at the pictures later on showed a pale iris but I didn't bother to confirm the age.

Recently I went back to the pictures and it was bugging me that I wasn't certain on the age of the bird. After some reading and asking around it's now clear that the bird is a 2nd-winter with the pale iris confirming this. Gulls - I am getting more and more into them, that a good or a bad thing?

Photo from the morning in poor light which led me to think
 it was a 1st-winter bird due to "dark" iris.
The following pictures show a clear 2nd-winter Iceland gull.