A visit to the not so Black Isle 28 December 2022

Slavonian Grebe Cemlyn Martin

Slavonian Grebe in winter plumage, library photo by Martin Jones

Today we led a field trip from the Grant Arms Hotel on Speyside north of Inverness to the Black Isle though today it was more of a White Isle as the ground was covered in snow. Arriving at RSPB Udale Bay on the north shore of the Black Isle, the tide was a long way out. However, even with this not ideal condition we were soon enjoying plenty of birds. The tidal channel just below the car park held Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal and Mallard, all allowing frame-filling views through the telescopes. On the mudflats beyond, we watched flocks of Northern Lapwings feeding and amongst them, three Golden Plover. In the distance at the tide's edge were hundreds of Common Shelduck, and smaller numbers of Ringed Plover and Dunlin. On the saltmarsh we picked out a Red Kite feeding on a dead goose; the kite was continually harassed by Carrion and Hooded Crows. Then a real surprise when a Kingfisher flew along the channel in front of us and luckily landed in view. Telescopes were quickly on the bird allowing our guests to enjoy some great views of this most colourful bird. In the fields behind us, we watched Fieldfares, Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers and Skylarks along with Pink-footed and Greylag Geese.

Moving along to the coast to the east we stopped again and scanned the glass-like waters of the sealoch and were amazed to see a huge flock of Greater Scaup. Our friend Dawn Balmer had the patience to count the ducks and recorded over 600 of these winter visitors, probably the largest flock we have ever seen in the UK. There was much more to see here with beautiful Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers and lots of Slavonian Grebes. Back home in North Wales we are used to seeing very small numbers of Slavonian Grebes but here off the Black Isle, there were 26 of these diminutive black-and-white grebes. A common seal surfaced just offshore before we headed further east towards Cromarty.

Eider 2 Ythan

Common Eider were a feature right along the north coast of the Black Isle

At Cromarty village we parked on the promenade and again scanned the flat, calm sea quickly picking out at least six winter-plumaged Black Guillemots. We also enjoyed more views of Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers and Shags offshore. On the beach, Rock Pipits flitted along the tideline looking for insects. We had a delicious pub lunch of traditional Cullen Skink at Cromarty which went down very well.

Shelduck drake

There were hundreds of Common Shelduck feeding at Udale Bay

We then returned to RSPB Udale Bay and what a different place it was from our earlier visit. The tide had risen very quickly and the whole bay was flooded pushing ducks and waders up on to the remaining marsh right opposite our viewpoint. The views of the birds were fantastic and we enjoyed comparing Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Redshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Lapwings all at close range. Suddenly a small bird of prey whizzed right in front of us, a Merlin! Luckily this pocket rocket of a raptor landed in a dead tree close by and we had super views through the telescopes before it dashed off again and flew past us out over the bay to be lost to view. Next up was a flock of Goldfinches which landed in a bare tree beside us and we were surprised to see a single Twite amongst them. A wonderful end to a bird-filled day! Huge thanks to the 22 people who joined us from the Grant Arms Hotel during the day.

Contact us

* * *



Our Tweets

This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. See our Cookie Policy for further details on how to block cookies.
I am happy with this


What is a Cookie

A cookie, also known as an HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie, is a piece of data stored by a website within a browser, and then subsequently sent back to the same website by the browser. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember things that a browser had done there in the past, which can include having clicked particular buttons, logging in, or having read pages on that site months or years ago.

NOTE : It does not know who you are or look at any of your personal files on your computer.

Why we use them

When we provide services, we want to make them easy, useful and reliable. Where services are delivered on the internet, this sometimes involves placing small amounts of information on your device, for example, your computer or mobile phone. These include small files known as cookies. They cannot be used to identify you personally.

These pieces of information are used to improve services for you through, for example:

  • recognising that you may already have given a username and password so you don’t need to do it for every web page requested
  • measuring how many people are using services, so they can be made easier to use and there’s enough capacity to ensure they are fast
  • analysing anonymised data to help us understand how people interact with our website so we can make them better

You can manage these small files and learn more about them from the article, Internet Browser cookies- what they are and how to manage them

Learn how to remove cookies set on your device

There are two types of cookie you may encounter when using our site :

First party cookies

These are our own cookies, controlled by us and used to provide information about usage of our site.

We use cookies in several places – we’ve listed each of them below with more details about why we use them and how long they will last.

Third party cookies

These are cookies found in other companies’ internet tools which we are using to enhance our site, for example Facebook or Twitter have their own cookies, which are controlled by them.

We do not control the dissemination of these cookies. You should check the third party websites for more information about these.

Log files

Log files allow us to record visitors’ use of the site. The CMS puts together log file information from all our visitors, which we use to make improvements to the layout of the site and to the information in it, based on the way that visitors move around it. Log files do not contain any personal information about you. If you receive the HTML-formatted version of a newsletter, your opening of the newsletter email is notified to us and saved. Your clicks on links in the newsletter are also saved. These and the open statistics are used in aggregate form to give us an indication of the popularity of the content and to help us make decisions about future content and formatting.