Monday, 23 January 2012

If You Don't Get One Sort of Grouse, Get the Other!

I'm rather partial to Matthew Gloag's product, if it's a blended whiskey then my choice would be The Famous Grouse. Over the years the distillery have been inventive and produced, probably more for novelty than profit, a Black Grouse, a Snow Grouse (which it is recommended should be sipped directly from the freezer) while last night I was introduced to The Naked Grouse. A visit to the pub next door for a nightcap, was met with a whole host of convivial people not least the Landlord when I asked for a 'wee half' (Scottish for a Whiskey). The bottle is of a different shape to the others, of clear glass and has a Grouse embossed (naked) on its side. Nifty I thought!

To make things clear we are running one day behind.

This morning the gale had given way to a gentle breeze, the sky remained overcast and whatever precipitation there was arrived in light and infrequent bursts. One might consider these perfect conditions for a bit of Grouse hunting of a different kind, but Oh how WRONG you can be!

One of the many quaint quirks about being a 'fixed income pensioner' is that you rarely know, or care, what day it is. Yes, I know now that it was Sunday because someone told me but unfortunately in retrospect! No Buggers at work, and I'm heading for Cairn Gorm.

First encounter was at Avemore where the International Sled Dog Championships were taking place. Now while I have no liking for dogs at all, it was intriguing to spend a little time watching this event.

There were said to be at least 1,000 'Huskies' on site and probably double that number of people, with vehicles piled bumper to bumper both sides of the verges,

a PA system blaring out and the associate noise of people and pets.

Everybody and their dog were here so you begin to see why my idea was flawed, but there was worse to come.

At the Cairn Gorm Ski Centre and Funicular Railway, there were literally hundreds of people here to celebrate National Snow Day! The noise that was belching from the 8 huge speaker, probably rejected by Led Zeppelin as being to LOUD, was deafening and hardly what you would expect in a National Park - how do they get away with it?

The traffic was of 'convoy proportions

while a continual snake of Sherpa like figures where climbing the very mountain intended for my rendezvous with a Ptarmigan.

I got as far as The Burn and decided to abort, thinking this had been the wort idea I'd ever had!

Ptarmigan or Red Grouse had most certainly been there earlier,

as had quite possibly a Rabbit (Mountain Hare would show a 'snowshoe' hind leg/foot) but the hubbub was frightening me away so what chance them?

Had the visibility allowed the Mountain of Cairn Gorm would stand centre stage in this shot as I drove off to pursue Plan B.

Perching the car on the edge of the precipice I scanned the area for about 30 minutes in hope of seeing a bird in flight, there being no chance of hearing one with PA's in all directions.

From there I revisited The Slochd Summit but failed to locate any Red Grouse, and was thinking, on my way to the Findhorn Headwaters again, that it was about time Lady Luck sprinkled a little of her dust in my direction. About 8 miles down the single lane road she did so as it seemed as though the sun had been Obscure By Clouds (Pink Floyd). Looking up

Flippin' Ek, or words to that effect, a Golden Eagle* directly overhead!

A little editing to bring out some colour,

as it folded its wings for a stoop into the Glen.

I was gifted a full 8 to 10 minutes watching this magnificent creature scouring the cliff face and scree in hope of a meal,

then barely without a wing beat it gained altitude and disappeared over the mountain top - Pheeew!

On the way back to the Rothiemurchus Forest there was time to visit Boat of Garten Central Station and

The Railway Museum.

Passing through Nethy Bridge it has always raised a little mirth when I see this Butcher Shop.

Drawing on a little 'local knowledge', there was a good chance of success at a feeding station I know in the Abernethy Forest not far from Nethy Bridge. The station was constructed, sighted and is maintained by the people of the village

and is the best chance I know for Crested Tit*.

No disappointment today as there were probably as many as 4 present. In addition there were several small groups of Crossbill, but deciding which species is a minefield even for those who live with and study them. It was fortunate that during the 'ringing' programme here in the late 90's I paid 2 visits to the ringing station seeing both Common and Scottish Crossbill* in the hand, total catches amounting to 20% - 80% in favour of the latter. Of the 3 or 4 I could make any sense of today they also appeared to be Scottish.

The Year (January) List now stands at 187

Finally, a few words about Craigellachie House. Probably the best guest house I have ever had the pleasure of staying in, and again an excellent hub for keen bird and general wildlife watchers. As this part of the world is busy all year round it would be advisable to book well in advance. The telephone number is 01479 841641.

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