Day 2 – Inverbervie to Aberdeen

Another day, another bay – this one is Stonehaven

After a pleasant nights stay and a wholesome Scottish fried breakfast we set off up hill from Inverbervie towards Aberdeen. Because of the new link road the NCN 1 meanders around a bit, but by coffee time we’d reached Stonehaven. The route then follows what Bry called ‘Slug Road’ – not sure if this is because it’s a bit of a slug (which it is) or because it means you go at the pace of a slug – which I did! Either way we eventually made it back to the coast and Aberdeen. A bit of sight-seeing at the mouth of the Dee produced lots of Eider, a small flock of female Goosander and an entertaining pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphin. The only other bird tick was a rather out-of-context Grasshopper Warbler near to our lunch stop. We’re staying in the Mercure Hotel – rather posh by our standards – and tonight eating at an award-winning Indian. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Look carefully and you can see playing Dolphin – Eider in the foreground. Well what do you expect with an iPhone!

Day 1 – Lower Green Hillock to Inverbervie

The Grand Depart

We set off from Bry’s with a respectably early start and cycled for an hour or so before our morning coffee stop. A relaxed start to this first day of the concluding section of the NCN 1, with cloudy but bright weather and a side wind for most of the day. A couple of k further on we joined the NCN 1 proper, a little to the north from where we’d started last time – only heading south. Quiet roads led us to Montrose and our lunchtime stop. We then crossed the picturesque North Esk river before visiting the National Nature Reserve at St Cyrus, where a family party of Peregrine provided a familiar sight. This was quickly followed by the most challenging climb of the day (‘possibly for the whole trip’ says Bry – we’ll see!) and a speedy descent, along the busy A92, into Johnshaven. Our chosen afternoon tea stop, The Hidden Tearoom, is unfortunately closed on Mondays 😦 so we pushed on to our final over-night destination, The Crown Hotel at Inverbervie. The last few miles being along a coastal track affording excellent views of a number of sea and shorebirds – bringing our overall trip list up to 87 species.

The coastal vista from the NCN 1, near Inverbervie

We’re off..

Loch of Kinnordy RSPB reserve

Yesterday, Neil and I took the opportunity of a training ride. In his case, honing his muscular physique after months of relentless and secret training – in my case draining the battery of any residual energy I’d stored up over the preceding weeks! We set off west in a brisk head-wind, had lunch in Kirriemuir and later in the afternoon enjoyed a spot of birding around Loch of Kinnordy – adding ten more species to the bird list. Years ago, when Jane and I were visiting Bry & Ann, on this same loch Jane found and I identified a White-winged Black Tern – pretty rare in Scotland then and still is. I pointed it out to the Warden, explaining the finer identification features, before she ‘laid claim’ to the record! It was ever thus. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that we won’t be seeing WWBT today!

NCN 1 – the final chapter

No wonder Neil looks so relaxed – he’s the one with the electric bike!

The beginning of the end. We’re at the start of the final stage of our NCN (National Cycle Network) 1 sojourn from John O’Groats to Dover – completed in several stages. This last section is from Arbroath to the top end. Neil and I are on the train heading north to meet up with Bryan. In fact we’ve just passed through Berwick-on-Tweed, where our journey began back in 2017. We have a day to get the bikes and our kit sorted before we head off on Monday morning. 400+ miles later we should reach our final destination. The bird list for this trip is already one shy of the half-ton, with the combined trip list sitting at 126. We should add a few more before we finish!

Peaks Pageant

A handsome male Pied Flycatcher – one of the hoped for species

Although birding is not the focus of our current visit to Derbyshire, with such promising countryside on our doorstep, it would be rude not to do some. A trip to Padley Gorge, part of the National Trust Longshaw estate, produced a reasonable selection of the local fauna. An afternoon walk to Chatsworth House was, by contrast, a complete let-down, as they are in the midst of preparing for the Chatsworth International Horse Trials. The whole grounds are a tent city / car park and the magnificent house frontage was spoilt by giant cherry pickers replacing windows. Other birds seen on our various site-seeing excursions have included: Merlin, Wheatear and Raven. In the evening, on the way to the restaurant for the ‘birthday tea’, there were a couple of Swift over the village – my first of the year.

Tree Pipit – an unexpected bonus
Better views of a territorial Grey Wagtail
Tree-creeper at the nest hole

Today it’s raining.

Meet the neighbours

We’re up in the Derbyshire Dales for a few days to celebrate brother Rob’s 70th birthday, staying in a cottage close to the Chatsworth Estate. On my early morning walk I met a few of the locals.

Mandarin seem pretty regular around here
Dipper, always at home on these upland streams
Along with Grey Wagtail

Garganey post-script

Having sea-watched over a hundred Garganey off the coast of Costa Brava during our recent week away in Spain, I was interested to read this account of Garganey in the Birdguides weekly round-up.

And, on my return to Cley NWT yesterday – four of these fabulous ducks on the reserve – iPhone record shot

Tres cheers for Spanish restoration

Estany d’Ivars i Vila-sana in it’s hay-dayfortunately, the newly restored lake is now a wildlife haven

A second attempt to find Dupont’s Lark – this time visiting the excellent SEO Birdlife reserve at El Planeron – was only half successful, in that we heard a couple but failed to see anything in less than optimal conditions. After which, on the way home, we took a detour to Estany d’Ivars i Vila-sana. This lake, the largest in Catalonia, is a triumph of Spanish (Catalan) habitat restoration. The lake was historically seasonal but all that changed in the 1860’s with the creation of the Urgell Canal. The associated accumulation of ground water increased the size of the lake to around 135 ha, and it quickly became a centre of social, economic and cultural life for the surrounding villages. However, with the increased demand for irrigation and arable land meant that by 1951 the lake was completely dry, and it remained so for more than fifty years. But, with a community-backed initiative to buy out the 165 settlements and create the right conditions, the restoration of the lake began in earnest in 2002. It took four years for the lake to re-fill and the major expansion of biodiversity which followed. We walked the 6.5k path around the lake, enjoying water-birds, early migrants and resident species. The highlight was superb views of a pair of Penduline Tit nest-building – unfortunately the battery was flat on my camera so no pics! A last sea-watch this evening produced an excellent Black-throated Diver.

There were several pairs of bill-clacking White Stork around the lake
Record shot of this evening’s diver

Birding Belchite

Lesser Short-toed Lark (mediterranean) – nice but no substitute

We’ve taken a break from the relentless Santa Susanna ‘sunshine’ (I wish) and come inland to the Zaragoza plains in search of desert species – in particular larks. We stopped off at several spots on our way to our over-night lodgings in Belchite, adding a few more species to the list – which now stands at 70+. Top spot goes to a magnificent 2cy Golden Eagle which drifted over the plain before briefly alighting on a pile of stones by the roadside. A young male Hen Harrier, along with Black Kite, Lesser Kestrel and Little Owl all added raptor interest. Perhaps the most surprising sighting though was of several pairs of Chough seen on various derelict farm buildings – hadn’t thought of them as being a Spanish lowland species. We did see a few larks as well – Crested, Calandra and Lesser Short-toed (Mediterranean) but alas no Dupont’s, our target species. Ah, I nearly forgot to mention the sea-watching bonus this morning – a flock of five Little Ringed Plover and a Little Egret in off. 

Young Golden Eagle – our bonus bird of Belchite
Calandra Lark – in abundance
These fly-by Little Ringed Plover were a sea-watch bonus

Sea-watch supplement

Fifteen of our 70 sea-watching Garganey with three Shoveler in tow

The weather here in Spain has continued to be miserable – cold, wet and windy. Nether-the-less we did mange a brief outing to the local castle at Palafolls, where we added a few species, including Peregrine and Crag Martin. Yesterday was Jane’s BIG Birthday, so we indulged ourselves in a day of tourism – visiting Casa Dali at the picturesque sea-side town of Cadaques. Hence, the only real birding I’ve managed has been a couple more hours sea-watching from my indoor ‘hide’ of Joe & Gabi’s penthouse apartment. Generally it’s been quiet but I did manage a ‘sea-watching first’ with a fly-by Audouin’s Gull, several more impressive flocks of Garganey, I estimate 70 birds in total, and three Shoveler, tagged on to the back of one of the groups. Today, in a brief weather-window, we head off to the plains of Zaragoza for a bit of larking about.

My fly-by Audouin’s Gull – a sea-watching ‘first’
Interior of Casa Dali.He kept the swans as pets and had them stuffed when they died