Visited the Highlands for two weeks in August-September, Based in Grantown-on-Spey. Birding primary motivation. Signed up for five days with Birding Ecosse. Would have done more had he been available. David Slater is a first class birder with a lively sense of humor and keen ability to read his clients.
David limits his tours to three guests which allows for birding tailored to level of obsession, quick pivots caused by weather or other surprises and adaptation to quirky birders. You know who you are.
Full birding days ranged all over the Highlands; the Moray Firth and due East to Troup Head, The Black Isle, Cairngorms National Park, dozens of lochs and hides and RSPB reserves. Highlight was the Caledonian Ferry MV Loch Seaforth from Ullapool to Stornoway, Outer Hebrides. Back and forth on the ferry for a total of six hours of stunning pelagic birding from the comfort of a well appointed ferry. Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Gannets, Puffins, both Skuas, Guillemots, Razorbills. David was on top of it all, calling out what he spotted and just as excited as we were. Another highlight was Troup Head, the largest Gannet colony on mainland Scotland. First we trekked across fields of barley to the dizzying cliffs where thousands of Gannets of various ages filled the air with their cries. Then we boarded a sturdy little boat at MacDuff and motored east to see the colony from the water. Acres of craggy expanse covered by gannets, their nests and their young. It only gets better. On the return trip to MacDuff, a pod of 15 or more bottle nosed dolphins surrounded the boat, coming so close that long camera lenses were unnecessary. Very young dolphin calves, just a few days old, stuck closely to the adults. The boat captain killed the engine, the dolphins came closer and we were speechless in awe.
All of these trips include tailgating from the back of David's SUV, usually while looking at some well populated birding habitat. He puts on his barista hat and makes coffee or tea. Cakes and biscuits are served. We do the same for lunch; bring your own. No time wasted. Birding never stops.
Nor do the laughs and good humor. As the days progressed running gags expanded in detail and hilarity. Yes, you had to be there.
A day with David Slater is a day of non-stop excellent birding, unexpected duck-filled ponds at the end of one-lane roads and the occasional glimpse of castle ruins ("Today's culture on the right. That's it.") You will laugh, you will find yourself saying "Aye" instead of "Yes," you will learn about threatened raptors, you will wonder how David found that White-tailed Eagle sitting in the rain atop Gruinard Island, you will call a Great Skua a Bonxie and you will wonder what the dreadful orange soft drink is that David is drinking. At some point, you will know that you must return to the Highlands and Birding Ecosse.
-sturdy shoes or boots a must
-warm hat, scarf, gloves, extra fleece or sweater. Yes, it's August. It is also Scotland.
-water resistant, wind proof jacket with hood.
-good binoculars (David has scope and tripod)
-camera, if part of your birding experience
-peanut butter M&M's for David, if you are visiting from US. Not available in UK.
Check out the Birding Ecosse website, newsletter, etc. for further details on the August 2017 trips described above. And what's coming up for those brave and hardy enough to go birding in Scotland in winter.
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