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Think birds in Scotland and I suppose it is the iconic species you think of first: the golden eagle is probably the best known but paradoxically one of the least often seen. Osprey, snow bunting, dotterel, great skua, Scottish crossbill, crested tit and several others are just some of the species especially associated with Scotland.
(Above) Snow bunting amongst the pinkish granites of the Cairngorms. Sometimes you see them in the car-parks of Scotland's ski centres. Or by the coasts in winter. Along with (say) dotterel, crested tit, Scottish crossbill and more, these are amongst the special birds of Scotland.
Two Scottish birdy specialities are interesting but quite low profile - in as far as you have to go out and find them. And you'll need binoculars, if not a packed lunch.
These are the crested tit and the (Scottish) crossbill, which I am reasonably certain I snapped at the top of a tree in darkest Perthshire (pictured left). But they are hardly 'in your face' species. I mean, we are not talking 'bonxie on the breeding ground' behaviour, - see below - to give just one example of a bird that even the most dull-witted walker would notice. While watching birds in Scotland, no-one has ever been attacked by a crested tit or severely nipped by a crossbill that I know of. You have to go into the pinewoods - for crossbills and crested tits, though it helps to know that cresties (apprently) never stray more than a a few hundred yards/metres from their place of birth. (Actually, I'm not sure if knowing that does really help. But a serious birdy lady once told me that, so I thought I should share it.)
Then there are those birds in Scotland that are associated with particular areas - and I'm thinking here of the great skuas (or bonxies) of the northlands, the divers (loons), as well as the members of the grouse family, especially the iconic - that word again - red grouse of the Highlands. The rural areas of eastern Scotland are good places to see the over-wintering flocks of grey geese of various species, and there are some very impressive seabird colonies likewise on the east side - for example, the Bass Rock and its gannets - though for how much longer is another matter.
2011 survey reports from the north of Scotland were extremely gloomy, with words like 'crisis' and 'disaster' being bandied around. Seabird colonies as barometer of the health of our seas? Hmmm. Winter of 2012-13 on the east coast I will remember for the 'wrecks' of auks. Nothing spoils a beach walk like a trail of washed-up dead puffins on the tide-line.
With few exceptions, if you see a golden eagle while you are still inside your car, and it's sitting on top of a fence post - the eagle, I mean, not the car - then you've probably seen a buzzard, or 'tourist eagle'. Feel free to lie to the children though.
To be honest, I think even experienced birdy folk always have that 'is it or isn't it' moment when they first spot a distant, dark soaring bird against the Scottish hills. Statistically, amongst the birds in Scotland, it is likely to be a buzzard, far commoner than the golden eagle, which is bigger, it's usually darker, the wingtips are more 'feathered' and the neck is a bit longer - but, hey, if it's a mile or two away, then some doubts are more than excusable. In my memories of birds in Scotland, the best views I ever had of golden eagles was of three at once somewhere in the north-west. (I'd prefer to be vague.) I've disturbed one on a summit ridge of an Argyll mountain, and watched another hunting on a plateau in the eastern Cairngorms. Sure, they're around, but amongst the birds in Scotland still very special when you do see them.
The well-resourced RSPB visitor centre at Loch Garten in Strathspey is where even non-birdy visitors go to see this spectacular fish-hawk and pry into its domestic arrangements via close-circuit tv. Persecuted to extinction, in the early years of the 20th century, the osprey has now re-established itself along lochs and river even beyond the Scottish Highlands. Loch of the Lowes east of Dunkeld, Perthshire, also has osprey viewing facilities. My own favourite viewing place is for them is at the River Spey estuary in Moray - the car-park at the road end (Tugnet) by Spey Bay. (In fact, you can see them from the car!) Remember you won't see them amongst the birds in Scotland in the winter, as they flee to warmer climates.
In mature Scots pinewoods in the Highlands, especially, say, around Abernethy, much fuss is made and effort put into conserving the capercaillie, a kind of half-grouse, half-turkey-like aberration. The largest of the grouse family, the poor beasts became extinct before the end of the 18th century, were re-introduced from Sweden in the 19th century, and things aren't looking very promising second time around for keeping its status amongst the birds in Scotland. There are perhaps 1000 individuals left.
Around 30% of caper deaths are caused by them flying into fences, while, during the mating season, aggressive males have been known to fight each other to death. Follow that with a couple of recent wet seasons when the chicks were tiny - they get chilled - plus disturbance from, uhmm, tourists, and if you believe in reincarnation, then you probably don't want to come back as a capercaillie next time round. Amongst the birds of Scotland, it's not one of the luckiest.
By the way, orthographically speaking (ooh - get him), capers are also seen in print as 'capercailzie' - the 'z' really being the old Scots letter 'yogh' that never had a printing character allocated to it, printers making do with a 'z'. But that's a digression, unless your name is Menzies (say 'ming-iss') or you live in Finzean ('fing-in'), which isn't too far from the few capercailzies left in Deeside
Another bird often recognised by people who aren't interested in birds. Find one dead on the beach (and I hope you don't), pick it up by one wingtip, hold the tip as high as your head and you'll find the other wing-tip is still on the sand. These are big, big birds up close - though the usual view is of distant black-tipped white crosses rocketing down into the sea. A boat-trip to one of their breeding colonies, say, the Bass Rock, east of Edinburgh, is a 'must see' Scottish wildlife experience, though there are other colonies, including Troup Head in Aberdeenshire, Noss and Hermaness in Shetland.
St Abbs also has easy viewing seabird colonies (though not breeding gannets). More here on Scottish wildlife. For great more great bird-watching, especially the rare chough and corncrake, we recommend the Isle of Colonsay. Or you might like some wacky stuff on butterflies in Scotland. Yes, top up your coffee and keep reading.....
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Here are some iconic birds of Scotland and some practical advice about where to see them. The photos here are all mine. (What do you mean 'well, that explains it'?) I'm very proud of my wheatears, below......
Wheatears on Eyemouth golf course, spring - ahead of breeding up in the Lammermuirs, perhaps.