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Sunday, 9 August 2015

It's Just a Perfect Day . . Cairngorms. 9th August


Sunday 9th August fresh SW in the valley, very strong and cold gale on the mountain tops cloud just touching tops. A few showers and a little sunshine. Scottish mixture...Four seasons.



Awoken by screams of “what's leaking?” in the early hours, Simon the occupant of the bed next to mine in the youth hostel dormitory, discovers that the person in the bunk above him has just relieved himself down onto his pillow! It shines out like a shaft of gold when all is dark.

Simon, in disgust, an after using invective to tell the midnight pisser what he thinks of him, goes and sleeps in his car. I fall back into my exhausted stupor glad it wasn't me below.

Breakfast is superb and Simon comes into the dining area a little the worse for wear but drier.

Outside clouds are scudding the tops of the Cairngorms where I will attempt to find ptarmigan today.

Setting off, I cycle around a mile and then push. Real lycra-clad cyclists pass on their painful lactic acid climbs but I want to see more birds and enjoy the siskins and titmice along the way up. A large growth on a pine tree is intriguing, caused by a ****

The last section is above the treeline and the views over the glen are superb. Loch Morlich looks so small from here and Aviemore seems to be no more than a model village.

I arrive at the ski centre and go into the rangers office to ask for some advice over finding the main target bird, ptarmigan. Snow buntings I know I will see later in the year, probably December when I plan to go to the North Norfolk coastline.

Rauri, a younger than me (who isn't?) ranger, is fantastically helpful and very enthusiastic over telling me about not only ptarmigan but also ring ouzels, snow buntings and wheatears.

Leaving the office, and after hiding the bike, I start the long walk up the Cairngorm Hills. The intention is to search the areas suggested and also reach the summit.

I take what's called the Windy Trail and it is indeed that with a gale much stronger than yesterday.

On the car park before setting off for the summit, I had talked with two young German girls from Berlin and here they were coming down the trail towards me. “It's too brutal,” one of them told me. “We're going to take the train.”

On his way down further up is a silver-bearded gentleman with expensive binoculars around his neck and a large black dog on a lead. He turns out to be the bird recorder for the Cairngorms, Peter Gordon. He has just been to the summit and has seen and heard ptarmigan up there. He also tells me he had an usual group of five ringed plover up there. I love meeting birders!

An hour or so later I reach the Ptarmigan cafe and sit outside for a short rest. A Polish family arrive and tell me that one can enter the cafe if one signs the book. Well I know that people who arrive by using the funiculaire can't access the hills but have to remain inside the cafe but I didn't know that I could go in having walked up.

I sign the book, enter tha cafe and join the queue. The Polish family come over and invite me to sit with them. At the table I enjoy the superb hot chocolate but can't eat the appalling oven chips and onion gravy. A campaign should be started for real chips! Anyway the conversation with Cudak and Michal, Jan and Piotr and another gentleman who's name in my note book I can't read is mostly led by the eleven year old son. He tells us all the Polish people have no sense of humour and proceeds, with his brother to relate various Simpsons episodes with glee. He is very straight yet very animated.

We talk about favourite films and Poland. They are mostly from the wonderful city of Krackow; all except Michal who lives in Calgary, Canada.

An hour goes past quickly and I should be outside searching for the birds. Piotr braings me a very large coffee just as I am preparing to leave. Half an hour passes.

I am outside. I walk maybe two hundred yards up the hill. I small rck looks a bit bird-like. It turns around, just the head peaking out about real rocks. Ptarmigan!

Five ptarmigan are just over the ridge and slowly walk away from me, understandably, as I try to get views. Thrilled to get them at last having failed in 2010 I celebrate in a football goal style which brings a man to ask why the cheering.

After enjoying bird number 249, I carry on up the hill but not for long, a female snow bunting is almost under my feet! Bird number 250 goes onto the list and I sit down to watch this confiding bird. It rushes around searching for food and suddenly takes a short flight towards a small bit of tussocky grass. Behind it there is a juvenile which she quickly feeds with a shrill brief twip.

The next half hour I spend watching the antics of the pair and notice that a meadow pipit seems to be following the female snow bunting around.

With both birds photographed I proceed to the summit, take a selfie and explore around the boulder strewn landscape.

On taking a way down half way between each of the two official paths I turn around to look behind me, for what reason I don't know but maybe I am lucky to have a sixth sense. There are fifteen ptarmigan staring at me. More appear from between the boulders and once again they slowly move away; no rush just a slow ponderous walk away from the stranger.

I am over the Moon! Three target birds had over the last couple of days and the thought of having to return to the area in October can be dismissed.

A juvenile wheatear is very obliging as I sit down to watch it.

Time to go back to the ski centre and retrieve my bike. The weather although accompanied by a viciously bitingly cold wind has been mostly dry but rain starts to fall heavily. Still it doesn't last long and I soon dry in the wind.

At the bottom of where in the winter The White Lady ski run ends I find a family of three ring ouzels; two juveniles and what I presume is a female. She doesn't seem to be bright enough and black enough to be a male. The white crescent on the upper breast is pronounced but not pure white. Anyway I photograph all three, notice that they are all wearing small silver BTO rings and have yet another species photographed for the year.

There's a gentleman resting upon two walking poles. His name is Peter, there's been quite a few Peters recently, and a conversation with him is informative. Peter used to work for Shell in Venezuela and we share views on the oil issue, fracking and finally life with arthritis which is why Peter is standing there. He is incredible in that despite being almost crippled by the pernicious condition, he still walks the hills, albeit slowly.

It takes me ten minutes to hurtle downhill once I have the bike again. It is the fastest I have gone all year and an absolute thrill.

Back at the hostel I am floating with the exhilaration of both the ride down and the birds seen. I talk to everyone. Germans, Spanish and a superb French family from a village just south of Paris, the Feraud family. They are originally from Brittany and the men wear blue, black and white kilts with long knee-length white socks. Wide black leather belts and black shirts complete their smart outfits.

Two Scottish visitors are in the kitchen later, Callum a ten year old boy and his Mum. “Callum is a Gaelic bird,” he tells me. “It means dove.”