Bird Life in the South Loch Ness area of the Highlands of Scotland. 

The area surrounding Camerons Cottage is teeming with a wide variety of bird life. You could spot a wide variety of bird species such as the robin, chaffinch, goldfinch, great tit, blue tit, coal tit, long tailed tit, robin, blackbird, greenfinch, siskin, bullfinch, dunnock, goldcrest, thrushes and the tiny wren. Unfortunately this rich feast of birdlife also attracts the siskins predatory sparrowhawk- which is amazingly agile and speedy to watch.

Small colourful siskin finches are frequent visitors in winter from Europe with many staying to breed in the spring. The male is a vibrant yellow-green with a forked tail and a black crown. Female not so colourful with no black crown.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker with its striking black and white and red markings is in great spotted woodpecker the area and is a regular visitor. They are often seen clinging to tree trunks and branches and heard tapping rapidly on the nearby trees. The male is easily recognised by the red spot on the back of its neck. Juveniles have a red crown on top of their heads and will often take food back to the female nearby. Last summer we watched the juveniles grow up, often being fed by one of the parents and even visiting the feeders.

Treecreepers can often be spotted with its prominent white chest spiraling round the bark of trees searching for insects. They have a curved needle like beak ideal for picking out tasty insects from the bark of the tree. The long stiff tail helps to anchor the bird as it tugs at some stubborn insect in the bark.

Owls can often be heard calling out in the dusk and darkness and you may be lucky enough to see one swooping low nearby.
 tawny owlThe tawny owl was spotted very near the cottage and a guest kindly sent in this photo.

Mistle thrushes enjoy the berries of the rowan trees. They are the largest of our native thrushes and they are called mistle thrushes as they are fond of the sticky berries of the mistletoe but will willingly eat other berries. They can withstand the winter weather and lay eggs in late February in exposed nests at the top of trees. Large flocks of mistle thrushes and redwings sometimes pass noisily overhead in Autumn sometimes stopping for nourishment on the grassy banks. We have had waxwing winters - depending on the severity of the winter in Scandinavia swarms of waxwings can suddenly arrive in late September to harvest the local rowan berries in a feeding frenzy - stripping the trees bare within minutes.

 Gangs of small long tailed tits arrive in the winter months when their natural food is scarce and have a feeding frenzy on the nut feeders. They are black and white with a delicate light pink plumage and black button like eyes with a tail longer than their body.They noisily descend on any feeders but do not stay too long before disappearing to the tops of nearby trees. At night they huddle together for warmth.

Pheasants often appear around the cottage but are usually heard first. The plumage of  the male bird is quite magnificent especially in the sunshine when it seems to take on a metallic sheen and they can often be heard crowing quite loudly for their partners.

It is not unusual to see a family of pheasant chicks and mother in the late spring and summer wandering slowly in the grounds pecking around or just laying together in the warmth of the sun. It is fascinating watching them grow up and staying in the area to breed.

Red legged partridges thrive in the area and a brood of 12 or more chicks can often be seen following mother about in early summer and foraging under the bird feeders. Unfortunately very few actually survive due to the many predators around.

 Cormorants are often seen on the old disused pier posts at Dores beach which jut out into the water of Loch Ness with their wings outstretched. They often sit with their wings stretched out to dry as they are the only web-footed birds which do not put out a waterproofing oil for their feathers. They are strong underwater swimmers and therefore need to dry out on land before taking off again. This one was resting on Farigaig pier.

Mute Swans often nest near Farigaig pier. Along the shores of Loch Ness, grey wagtails, dippers and grey herons feed and breed. Red breasted mergansers skim over the surface of the water. In winter Goldeneye, Cormorants, Goosander and various types of Gulls and other coast loving birds come to Loch Ness, some seeking shelter from the cold westerly winds.

Red grouse can be seen by the side of the mountainous single track road over to Garbole and the Coignafearn estate. This is a beautiful run passing by Loch Farr and is surrounded by heather moorlands on both sides. Grouse rely almost entirely on the ling heather for food. Male has a red patch over its eye. Look out on your journey for the large white hares and various raptors - raven, merlin, hawks, peregrine falcons & eagles. Black grouse used to appear fairly frequently but nowadays these and the Blackcock are much rarer. Capercaillie are found in more wooded parts of the Highland, notably in the Abernethy Caledonian pine woods. Ptarmigan are on the Cairn Gorm range.

buzzardA wide variety of raptors inhabit the area and you will see buzzards circling overhead with slow flaps of its rounded wings or hovering in the air looking intently downwards with their sharp eyes ready to pounce on their next target. They are quite widespread and are the most common of our larger birds of prey. They can often be seen sitting quite still on a fence post by the road side or in a tree overlooking a field looking and listening for their lunch. This buzzard was seen lochside on the way to Dores.

Also look out for red kites especially on the Black Isle where they have been reintroduced. Unfortunately this rich feast of birdlife also attracts the predatory sparrowhawk- which is amazingly agile and speedy to watch This sparrowhawk was spotted resting nearby after an unlucky chase. It had got its feathers wet in the rain and was stretching the tail feathers out to dry them. Amazing yellow talons.

Flocks of barnacle geese often fly in for the winter and feed on the stubble in the fields before flying to the islands.

Loch Ruthven Nature Reserve is a great favourite with bird watchers and only a short drive from Camerons on the road to Daviot. It is fringed by sedge beds with birchwood, moorland and crags nearby. This is the best site in the whole of Britain for summer viewing of the rare Slavonian Grebe. You can see these grebes in their dowdier black and white winter plumage on the Moray Firth but from April to late August they occupy this famous loch for breeding purposes. They are conspicuous then by their upright golden ear-tufts and their glorious black russet and chocolate plumage. From the Loch Ruthven car park a short trail leads to a hide overlooking a sedge bed used by the grebes as well as other species. Ospreys are regular summer visitors here as are red-throated divers, goosanders and other ducks. Inhabiting the surrounding wood and moorland are short-eared owls, hen harriers, redpoll, whinchat, wheatear and the occasional ring ouzel.

Golden eagles inhabit the more remote mountainous areas. We have seen an eagle flying over the Cairngorms at Aviemore as we stopped for a picnic at Loch Morlich at the base of the Glen More Forest Park. We have also seen them on the Isle of Mull and at the pass of Glenshee between Blairgowrie and Braemar {A93 road}.

 loch garten osprey centreThe Osprey Centre at Loch Garten not far from the bustling village of Aviemore, a journey of about 50 miles from Camerons. The osprey is a magnificent fish-eating bird of prey with a wingspan of approximately 150cms and about 60cms in length. They were once widespread in the UK but its numbers decreased dramatically as it was persecuted by egg collectors and hunters. In 1959, after an absence of almost 40 years, a pair nested near Loch Garten and raised three young chicks with the help of special protection from the RSPB. Since then ospreys have returned to nest at Loch Garten every year and more than 80 young have fledged successfully. From the Osprey Centre building you can watch these spectacular birds of prey from close quarters using binoculars, telescopes and also watch the closed circuit television screens that show live pictures from the nest. Through the windows you can clearly observe the nest perched on the very top of a tall tree and see the adult female osprey feeding the chicks with fish provided by the male bird. The pair mate for life and always return to the same nest every year. The male arrives first during late April after spending the winter in West Africa and rebuilds the nest in preparation for the female to follow a few days later. They mate and the three eggs are laid over a period of a few days and incubated for about 37 days. By late May the eggs hatch and the young ospreys grow rapidly on a diet of fish. By the middle of July the young begin to learn how to fly but remain around the nest for another month. They should have developed their flying and fishing skills by mid August and they all leave on their migration back to West Africa.  loch garten

This nature reserve is not only important for ospreys. The rare native pinewoods are home to some of Scotland' s rarest wildlife including scottish crossbills, crested tits, otters, pine martens and red squirrels. You can also stroll along the various forest walks and gaze across beautiful Loch Garten.