Chats and more at Cullen

This afternoon we headed out to Cullen, on the coast east of Inverness. It’s a place we both visited a couple of times in 2022 and is part of the beautiful stretch of coastline in this part of Scotland. It’s proved great for walking and birds before and did not disappoint today: I went thinking that I might add a couple of bird species to the list, but ended up adding seven!

Part of the bay at Cullen

First off were common eider – the females are rather drab but the males stand out with lots of white. Next we saw long-tailed duck, these small ducks are fantastic, both sexes have great plumage with the males sporting long tail feathers. Unfortunately all these birds out on the sea were far too far away for good photos! Next we found a handful of razorbills – these are found in various colonies around the UK during the summer months, but are often out at sea in winter, but can be seen almost anywhere around the coast.

In one small bay we also saw a pair of stonechat, hopping around on a variety of rocks and branches, flicking their tails, and generally keeping an eye on us!

Male stonechat
Female stonechat

I was hoping to see a diver or two, and wasn’t disappointed: We counted at least five red-throated divers. In winter plumage they are not as striking as in the summer, but still great to see. There were plenty of cormorants around, and I suddenly noticed that one of them was a shag – the crest is a dead giveaway! Once we saw one we started seeing more and more, and one particular rock to the west of Cullen must have had at least fifty on it.

A shag showing off its quiff!

On the headland near Portknockie Brenda noticed two deer: We’ve so far seen muntjac, fallow and Chinese water deer in 2023, leaving red, roe and sika to complete our full set of UK deer species. The two we saw today were – when we checked the identification later – roe deer. Four down and two to go on the deer front!

A roe deer

Looking out to sea again I saw another small group of auks, but this time they didn’t have the wide bill of a razorbill, and so had to be guillemots….but then I noticed the white wing patches: black guillemots, a very pleasant surprise! There was even one in almost complete breeding plumage already. Lovely birds. We also saw a small flock of pigeons on and around some of the rocks near the shore. Quite a lot of these were “feral” pigeons – escapes from dovecotes now gone wild, and originally from rock dove stock. However there were one or two genuine rock doves among them, with their smart black double wing bars. Some guide books have feral pigeon as a distinct species, but I’ve never counted them on my bird lists, so I’m not going to add then for 2023!

A black guillemot in summer plumage (photo taken 2013)

Brenda writes: “Last November when I was up here on my own I decided to have a trip to Cullen, and had a wonderful walk there, marvelling at the geology and having nice views of eider duck on the sea.

One of the many interesting rock formations on Cullen beach

Steve had also been there and when we visited together before new year we discovered we’d walked in opposite directions along the coast from the car park. Whichever way you go it’s all wonderful! Today we walked west having fortified ourselves with burger and chips from a stall by the golf club. Highly recommended if you ever visit Cullen. The day hadn’t looked too promising as we drove north through fine drizzle but we managed the walk in what turned out to be a calm day with low clouds, and we only got wet when the rain set in on our way back to the car. We walked as far as the headland overlooking Bow Fiddle Rock.

Bow fiddle rock

Meanwhile, back home there were three moths in the trap! Many species of moths can be very variable which makes identification tricky. On first sight it appeared that I had two species but, having consulted my field guide and checked with James, what I had today were three chestnuts, a very common moth that flies from late September until May.”

Two different variants today of the chestnut moth, the bottom one a little worn!

New species for February 16th:
Birds: long-tailed duck, shag, common eider, red-throated diver, razorbill, black guillemot, rock dove
Moths: chestnut

Birds = 127
Moths = 4
Wildflowers = 16