A Change of Scenery

For three days I’m up in Dollar staying with my gran who I think was my inspiration for getting into birds and the outdoors.

Yesterday we went to lunch in Kinross at The Courthouse which was very nice. Afterwards I took her dog, Monty, a miniature dachshund, for a walk up the hills behind Dollar. The road I walked along is called the back road by my gran but I forgot to check what it’s actual name is (it’s called Upper Hillfoot Road, just checked). I wandered along, Goldfinches joined by the occasional Siskin in the Sitka Spruce plantation by the road. Every now and then a car would pass and I’d have to pick Monty up as there is no verge, the drivers all grinning at the cute little sausage dog as they went by.

I passed a path that said “Dollar Glen 1/2mile” and it rang a bell, as I’d seen Green Woodpeckers had been seen there. I walked past it but then gave in to temptation and headed back and up the path. Goldcrests and tits fed in the Norway Spruces and small finch flocks flew over now and then. There’s a nice, big house up there with some interesting trees, firs and a couple cedars took my interest.

Once up on the hill, after heading up a track to what used to be a plantation, quite recently all cut down, I enjoyed picking out Redpolls amongst the other finches which just about included all that species you’d expect. Most numerous were the Goldfinches, and then Chaffinches and Siskin, and in total I picked out 6 Redpolls and heard 1+ Crossbill(s) in a distant stand of Scots Pines. Quite nice getting into finch calls, I never completely got to grips with Redpoll and Siskin but that walk helped me. Speaking of Redpolls, I ordered Martin Garner’s “Challenge Series: Winter” book which I’m really looking forwards to. Finding anything different excites me, even if it’s a species I’ve seen before. Even Jackdaws, Crows and gulls can be made more interesting by looking at subspecies and moult variation. Then there’s Woodpigeons, which have  either been understudied or they are all the same, and incredibly boring.

Monty flushed a Roe Deer from the grass right next to the path, and quickly retreated to behind my legs as the deer bounded off around the hill. Back down the hill and home. A nice dog-walk-turned-birdwatch.

Today, or this morning, we went along the River Devon to find a spot that one of my grans friends mentioned. The walk along the old railway gave us nice views of Robins who’ve started singing now, as I’m sure you’re all aware. All the usual common birds were nice and active. Then we reached the area we were trying to get to. We sat at the side of the river and watched a family of Grey Wagtails flycatching and chasing each other. A Dipper sang from just up river where we couldn’t see it, a Buzzard was mobbed by crows overhead, and a single Siskin joined the Goldfinches on the thistle heads. Chiffchaffs appeared to be the only warblers about until a smaller sylvia appeared in some Hawthorn. A quick look turned Whitethroat into Lesser Whitethroat as I spotted it’s black legs. A very nice bird.

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Later we headed to Loch Leven which I was looking forward to despite the wildfowl not all having moved in yet. Before we’d got there, on the way there we turned off the main road on to the turn off for Drum. As we did so, a small mammal ran down the side of the road, and it could only have been a Red Squirrel! Finally, after being up north in Findhorn, and being down south in Mallorca, I’d year ticked one of these lovely little critters. Apparently they are spreading around Dollar which is promising as it means they are getting closer to Lothian!

Anyway, we got to Vane Farm and my gran took Monty for a quick walk while I got to the hides. The first hide gave me some birds on the feeder to the right, Greylag Geese and Mute Swans out on the water with a raft of Tufted Ducks joined by a couple of Cormorants further out. Then I spotted 2 birds of prey interacting over the wetland and after getting my scope set up I spotted at first an Osprey and then a Buzzard, both had perched on fence posts. Nice! The Buzz had interesting markings, a dark belly, but it wasn’t a juv Rough-leg.

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Next hide gave me another Osprey on another fence post. There’s a few around the loch at the moment which I assume is because Loch Leven is a good place to stop over on their trip south from the various breeding sites further north. I got up and headed back along the path to see where my gran had got to and met her as I rounded a corner. We returned to the hide I’d just been in so she could have a sit down. The Ospreys were still there, and we had nice views of Grey Herons and Lapwings.

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I decided to look back out at the Tufted Ducks and Cormorants. The first 2 birds I got on to were a pair of Great Crested Grebes, and then I realised I should have scanned the Tufties for my first Pochard of the year, which I succeeded in doing! A pale brown female Pochard was at the back of the raft as they headed NW.

P1130760 Pochard is the one between the 3rd and 4th Tufties from the left.

Next hide. This was a good one. There was a couple in there already scanning. Pied WagtailsBlack-headed Gulls, a Mallard, a couple of Moorhens… and then I heard what I first thought was a slightly off Common Sandpiper, something moved on a post across the lagoon. I got my scope on it. KINGFISHER! You people further south have to bare in mind we don’t get so many Kingfishers, and everybody needs to know that that’s my second Kingfisher, my gran’s first which I was desperately trying to find for her, and it was a year tick which I’d also desperately been looking for. I pointed it out to everyone in the hide and we enjoyed watching him/her fish successfully and then depart.

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As I was trying to get a Garganey out of a female Teal, the couple spotted a Water Rail skulking in the reeds on the other side of the lagoon. I got on to it but it disappeared in typical Water Rail fashion, so my gran didn’t get to see it, but she was very happy with the Kingfisher. That Water Rail was a British and Irish tick for me which was very nice and I thanked them for calling it out.

We headed home after that, no Red Squirrels on the way back but 4 Ravens in a field by the main road was very nice, plus the usual Buzzards over the hills.  Tomorrow we were considering going to RSPB Black Devon which isn’t fully fenced and pathed and signposted yet, so I think I’ll suggest to go back to Loch Leven where I might get to year tick Pintail… I fear there’s no hope for Wood Warbler on my year list unless I follow them to Africa! Dollar Glen or the woods around Castle Campbell (might both be the same place, I’m not sure) are a good place to go in the breeding season for woodland species. Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Jays, Green Woodpeckers, Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers all nest, quite a nice selection there!

Anyway, I best be off to bed if I’m going to go out tomorrow morning for a quick wander, maybe get in some more finch call practice, or get the Green Woodpeckers…

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A Change of Scenery

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