What an amazing nest location the Dotterel had chosen: around 900 metres up on the Cairngorm massif and with a dizzy view over the Lairig Ghru. We only hope that the chicks have a good head for heights!
Following an ancient line of weakness in the granite, the Lairig Ghru , a mountain pass, with its origins in the last Ice Age, links Aviemore in the North with Braemar to the South. We stood overlooking the extensive debris flows, but have yet to walk in to the Lairig Ghru. The closest we have come was, during a previous visit to the area, when we walked through the Chalamain Gap, a boulder strewn ravine in nearby Glen More, where we caught glimpse of the only herd of Reindeer in Britain. Around fifty of these impressive Arctic mammals roam freely in the Cairngorm National Park.
A warming soup ‘n’ sarnies lunch was sufficient to re-energise our minds (and legs!) for what would be one heck of a long way back for a short cut on our return to the Ski Centre car park. With seemingly boundless reserves of energy, bordering manic proportions considering the truncated nature of our recent sleep patterns, we set off towards Cairn Lochan and a return to some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the country.
We paused awhile to admire the vertical and horizontal nature of the granite joints at the cliff edge of Cairn Lochan before continuing on our merry (weary?) way along the headwall of Coire an t-Sneachda (Corrie of the Snow), at the end of which we faced a steep scramble up to the summit of Cairn Gorm. Negotiating a series of self-made switchbacks over the rocks and gravel proved to be a wise move and, in no time, having encountered little difficulty, we were back again on top of our little world. Cairn Gorm...twice in two days...deja vu!
En route down to the Ptarmigan Rest and our well-earned ride on the Cairn Gorm Mountain Railway, we thought to push our luck and attempt to relocate the pair of Ptarmigan that had accommodated us so well the previous day. After our fifteen minutes with the family of Dotterels prior to lunch, wildlife on the mountain had been at a premium, so our expectations weren’t high. Needless to say, the birds weren’t where we had found them the day before, but we didn’t have time to feel disconsolate about our luck changing, as another hen Ptarmigan was spotted on the other side of the path.
It was a ‘brown’ breeding-plumaged bird, quite different to the previous ‘grey’ pair and, what’s more, she had a brood of seven recently-hatched chicks in tow! For the umpteenth occasion on our trip to the Monadhliaths and Cairngorms we had been blessed with a huge stroke of good fortune. Yes, we thought that if we put in the leg work and climbed up to where these birds could be found, then we stood a good chance of seeing both Dotterel and Ptarmigan. Luck is, indeed, a crossroads where preparation and opportunity meet!