Recent news of a singing Icterine warbler in Aberdeenshire warranted a drive over the Cairngorms to Crathie, near Ballater. It is not often that the chance to see one of these birds on the mainland in spring presents itself, so it was an opportunity not to be missed. Having left the cold and dreary NW highlands it was good to see sunshine, blue skies and a temperature of 23 degrees celsius in Aberdeenshire. Upon parking the car in the lay-by, the bird could be heard singing somewhere nearby although out of sight. The mixed warbling, interspersed with scratchy notes and almost song thrush-like chirps was delightful in the mid afternoon sun. Swifts flew overhead, willow warblers and chaffinches were singing and the noisy Icterine warbler continued to pulse out its lovely song. After a few minutes of scanning the silver birch and scrub I located the bird quite high up in the canopy, the blustery conditions making it difficult to pick out in the kaleidoscope of green leaves and flickering shadow and shade. After watching the bird through my scope for some time, it stopped singing abruptly and flew over my head to the other side of the road. It was notable how much the flight action and long-winged appearance suggested a spotted flycatcher. Having walked over the road to try and relocate the bird, it immediately flew back again although this time much closer to the road allowing for better shots to be obtained.
I enjoyed the bird for almost 50 minutes before setting off on my 125 mile return drive. After 15 miles or so of driving I chanced upon a a guy standing at the side of the road. He had a large rucksack and what I took to be a seabag. I'm often cautious about giving lifts but I know that public transport and the vast distances in the Highlands can be tricky to negotiate. The guy in question didn't look threatening in any way and actually looked very smart in a traditional kilt so on impulse I pulled over and as as he was heading for Inverness I was glad to assist. He turned out to be excellent company for my drive back through the mountains- an interesting background of exploration, sailing, photography and travel writing. It was great to chance upon someone else that had travelled widely to countries like Greenland, Alaska and Chile- some of my own personal favourites, so I was keen to check out his website on my return home- Alastair-Scott.com - worth checking out if you like the thought of taking a dog team across frozen Arctic wasteland, coupled with an array of other impressive travel adventures! Brilliant stuff! A lovely twitch with good weather, good company and a cracking bird to add to my 'Scottish' life list!