Both my parents have in the past few years done several treks in various parts of the world for Macmillan Cancer Support. In 2010 my Dad had done a trek which involved walking the Inca trail in Peru with a group of about 50 other people, and in May of this year they had organised a get together for a weekend to catch up. When I heard this would be taking place in the Highlands of Scotland about 10 miles from Loch Garten I made it clear there would be no way I would not be going with them! So on the 11th we headed off and by late evening we were at our accommodation in Cromdale near Grantown-on-Spey. My parents had said we could have around half a days birding out of the weekend, which despite not being enough time to do the area justice meant I could try and see my 3 main targets in the area, Capercaillie, Crested Tit and Ptarmigan. An early start on Saturday was agreed upon as it meant we could go to the Capercaillie watch at Loch Garten, and we arrived there at around 6:15 and the hide was already pretty full although no birds had been seen yet. The next hour and a half were frustrating to say the least, with a male bird giving the odd glimpses right at the back of the clearing but very few people were able to connect with it, and a female was seen from the forward hide however by the time the first group had been taken to see it it had moved on. As the first few few people were starting to filter out around 8:05 a huge dark bird flew in from the right of the clearing and perched up at the top of a Scots Pine, it could only be one thing, a male Capercaillie! I had brought my own scope along so whilst everyone else was lining up to take a look through the specially set up scopes I was able to get great views of the bird for a few minutes before allowing others to use mine too. It sat atop the tree for around for 10 minutes before with a huge flap of its wings it departed and out of view.
This was enough for me so we headed just down the road to Loch Mallachie where the circular walk around the wood and along the loch edge proved to be full of bird surprises. Siskins were absolutely everywhere seemingly calling from every tree, whilst Common Sandpipers nosily defended their territories on the shore of the loch. A flock of 10 or so Crossbills were coming to drink from a puddle on the track but I didn't have time to sit and watch them to see if there were any Scottish or Parrot mixed in with them. At least 3 male Redstarts were seen/heard on the walk however after one circuit of the track my main target remained elusive and unseen, but we got a tip off from another birder of a place to look. Upon reaching the spot we had been told about we looked upwards and there hopping around the branches of the pine above us was a Crested Tit. The views were difficult as it was directly above us and never sat still for a more than a second, but nevertheless it was a great bird to see and my second lifer of the day. Out final stop of the day was the ski centre on the edge of the Cairngorms where I was hoping for a sighting of Ptarmigan. There had been a lot of recent snowfall so the car park was packed with people making the most of the white stuff. To cut a long story short I was unable to locate any Ptarmigan, either around the car park or from the cafe at the top of the ski lift, although several displaying Red Grouse slightly made up for dipping the Ptarmigans. At least it gives me an excuse to go back again in the future!
The rest of the month was punctuated with revision and exams so birding was intermittent but by no means boring. On the 26th me and Ash headed up to the Silverdale/Arnside area to look for butterflies, however it was on the way the main surprise of the day appeared. Driving out of Garstang along the A6 I noticed a bird of prey coming in low from the west towards the road, and as it shifted it's trajectory a forked tail was revealed, a gorgeous Red Kite. These are still a rare species in the Fylde, this is around the 12th record for the area. My dad pulled over and I managed to fire off a couple of record shots as it drifted east over the road and out of the Fylde. After this surprise success we headed up to Gait Barrows near Silverdale where we hoped to find the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly and we were kindly shown 1 by another person searching for them soon after our arrival. Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Dingy Skipper were both new for me butterflies from the same day.
The final action of the month concerned some confusing Stints found on a flood in Weeton on the 27th. 2 Temminck's Stints were discovered during the morning, a species I am far from familiar with having only seen a distant pair the previous May at Newton Marsh. In the early afternoon I went to search for them and with a few others we eventually located 2 stints at opposite ends of the same flood in the middle of the field. One was a classic plain Temminck's Stint whilst the other was extremely bright and rufous, far from what I was expecting. However as they had been identified as 2 Temminck's by far more experienced birders that morning I just assumed this bird was a strange individual and so left it as that. It was only when I got home and looked on birdguides that I saw a report of "1 Temminck's and 1 Little Stint present on the flood" and alarm bells really began to ring. A quick look at images on the internet confirmed that the second bright bird could only have been a Little Stint (a Fylde tick for me) as no Temminck's is ever that colourful no matter what plumage it is in. I text a local this information who headed down to take a look and a soon got a reply saying that now both Temminck's were present along with the Little.